In the Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare illustrates his feelings towards Jews in 17th century England through the use of a commonly known stereotype during the time, the racial tension between Jews and Christians. Shylock is the focal point of the play, and acts as the traditional stereotype of the Jew in Elizabethan times. The merchant of venice is often seen as an anti-semitic work due to the stereotypical portrayal of the jewish character shylock. Some would argue that the most inevitable interpretation of shylock as a miserly wretch who care for nothing but his money is shakespeare expressing now – unfashionable anti-jewish views.
However , one must remember that this view was seen as entirley normal and acceptable at the time, and most of the jews of elizabethan england had stoicly accepted such treatment. At the time this play was written, money lending was a common occupation among jews as they were excluded from many other fields. Regarded as foreigners in england (as they were not christian and the english regarded all outsiders as foreigners), jews were typically denied the right to own real property and were barred from many professions in pre-modern england and europe.
Their minority religion in christian europe also made them social outsiders, as did their practices then of unique dress and dietary habits. Where jewish wealth existed , it was usually concentrated in the form of money, with extremely limited avenues through which it could legally be spent. In the beginnig of the play the first scene you see are christians burning the torah. This is becaue they were religious christians who had full hatred towards the jews. The jews were thrown out of their homes and were all sent to a ‘ghetto’ area were only jews lived.
Christians would guard the ghetto to see whether any of them would leave and mix with society. they had to wear red hats so that people in the city knew they were a jew. This is quite similar to when hitler invaded certain parts of europe and made the jews wear the star across their arms. The entire play is centered around a simple contract between shylock , a jewish money lender ,and anotonio, the merchant of venice. which is known as a bond. shylock wants his bond because antonio treated him badly. e would do all sorts to him, steal, spit and mock. That’s why in accepting the bond he would get his revenge. In act 3, scene 1, shakespeare gives the audience lots of different reactions and feelings to the character of shylock. This is clever because it confuses the audience, as they don’t know what to think of shylock. This means in the next act when shylock is portrayed, as a malicious character the majority of people will think this of him and the reaction towards jews will continue