In Shakespeare’s The merchant of Venice there is a clear clash of opinions between Antonio and Shylock. Most of the characters in the play are definitely against Shylock because he is Jewish. But is the message that Shakespeare is putting across saying that all people should hate Jewish people? I think that it could well be for these reasons.
Firstly in the basic structure of the play, Shakespeare will always make subtle differences in the way he writes dialogue for each character. This being that if the character is quite important, then he will write their dialogue in verse, but if the character is deemed unimportant, then Shakespeare will write their dialogue in prose. Shylock is quite a major character in the play, he is in a majority of the scenes in the play, and has a big influence of the plot, however all his dialogue is written in prose, thus deeming him unimportant. There is no knowing that this was just because Shylock was Jewish, Shakespeare may have had many other good reasons for structuring the play. But the fact remains that during the time that Shakespeare wrote the play there was a lot of anti-Jewish feeling around and this seems like a feasible reason for this structure.
The way that Shylock is portrayed in the play is also a good indication of the feelings towards him. Shylock is portrayed as miserly and selfish. This is shown by his attitude towards his daughter Jessica especially when he finds out that has stolen his money.
I would my daughter be dead at my foot, and the jewels in her ear: would she were hears’d at my foot, and the ducats in her coffin.
From this we can see that he is so concerned with his money, and so enraged at his daughter that he wishes her dead. This to the audience would be seen to be a very evil thing to be, and so they would believe that all Jewish people were like that. If the play were not anti-Semitic then the plot would be that Shylock would not care about the money, he would be angry no doubt but he would want to know what was wrong with his daughter to be like this, and he would want to talk to her. Shakespeare has clearly made the plot like this in order to show the audience that Shylock is evil and his being Jewish had clearly influenced this decision.
The clearest reason for me thinking that the play is anti-Semitic is what happens at the end of the play. Firstly Shylock is portrayed to be evil again by what he wants to do to Antonio, and that is to take a pound of flesh. It is not that he is forced to do so by the court, it is what he wants to do, he even gives up the chance of getting triple what he is owed by Antonio, instead of the Shylock’s desired punishment, but he turns this down.
If every ducat in six thousand ducats
Were in six parts, and every part a ducat,
I would not draw them, I would have my bond.
This is what Shylock says to Bassanio when he offered double the bond, which is owed by Antonio. This shows that Shylock has no mercy, which is supposed to be a typical Christian attribute. So this is anti-Semitic in itself.
What Shylock wants is to take a pound of flesh from Antonio’s body, even though Shylock knows that this could kill him, he does not care about this.
If William Shakespeare had wanted to make the play less anti-Jewish then he could have changed the punishment, which befell Shylock in the end of the play. Due to Balthasar saying, that yes Shylock could take a pound of flesh, but only a pound of flesh, so bone, and not a drop of blood, Shylock becomes beaten on his own terms. Then the conditions are turned on him, because he has plotted to kill Antonio then he must give up all his possessions when he dies, and also must give up his own religion to become a Christian. In this day and age, this form of punishment would be illegal because this would be known as ethnic cleansing, and very similar to what Hitler had done to the Jews during the Second World War.
Two things provided more, that for this favour
The other, that he do record a gift
(Hear in the court) of all he dies possess’d
Unto his son Lorenzo and his daughter.
This clearly says to me that this play is Anti-Semitic, and that William Shakespeare has clear intentions of making Shylock out to be evil just because he is Jewish. I think that if the play had not meant to be then Shylock would have been able to keep his religion.