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The Merchant of Venice: A Play for All Audiences

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Shakespeare wrote the merchant of Venice in a time when Jews were seen as the most inferior to Christians this was because they were stereotyped for being “money lenders” and doing anything for money but most of all they were blamed for the death of Jesus. It was also said that some of their feature were to resemble that of the devil because of this an original audience would have seen the play as a comedy.

A contemporary audience would have watched the play in a more serious state of mind this I because we live in a time were prejudice is seen as wrong, there also more reasons like if the Jews had not killed Jesus he would not have resurrected and the religion of Christianity might not have existed and that Jesus was a Jew himself.

The merchant of Venice by Shakespeare was originally intended to be a comedy and the original Christian audience would have found Shylocks misfortunes amusing because they were waiting until the Jews was outsmarted by the Christians ,but a contemporary audience might feel sympathy towards Shylock because of the way he is treated. The original audience would have seen the trial scene as humorous because they know that Jews plan to get a pound of flesh will fail and that in the end shylock would end up getting his comeuppance.

Act 4 scene1 line 84 Bassanio says “for thy three ducats here is six”, Shylock replies with “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” a original audience would have been shocked by this because Jews were known for doing anything for money but shylock refused this offer and still wants his pound of flesh a contemporary audience might understand why shylock would refuse the money because of the way Antonio treated him before.

In line 80, act 4, scene 1 Antonio refers to shylock having a Jewish heart when he does not show mercy, an original audience would have looked at shylock as a monster and would have understood why Antonio made that quote. A contemporary audience would have seen the comment as prejudice and would understand that shylock has reasons for not being merciful. In line 142, Act 4, Scene 1 Shylock makes a good point “I stand here for law” a contemporary would see this as a good point because Shylock made the contract and Antonio agreed with it, it is also a smart thing to do because he is using the Christian laws against them.

An original audience would know that shylock isn’t going to get away with it but also saw him as very cunning and devious when he said that quote. There is also another reference to shylock showing no mercy made by the duke in act 4, scene 1, line 8 “incapable of pity, void and empty from any dram of mercy” again the original audience would see more reason for hating shylock but once again the contemporary audience would see reason for his acts.

When Portia is entered in to the trial disguised as a man Shylock thinks he will win the case because he thinks that she is there to defend him when she says “Why this bond is forfeit, and lawfully by this Jew may claim a pound of flesh, to be by him cut off nearest the merchants heart. ” At this point in the play an original audience would have found this amusing because they know eventually the Jew is going to be outsmarted and that Antonio will end up being set free, but a contemporary audience would have seen this as wrong and illegal because she is posing as a man which is fraud.

Afterwards Portia finds a flaw in the contract when she says “this bond doth give thee here no jot of blood, the words expressly are “a pound of flesh” meaning that shylock can have his pound of flesh but if one drop of blood is spilt everything he owns will be confiscated. The original audience will be glad that eventually the Jew lost but the contemporary audience will think that this is wrong because the Christians used illegal methods just to set someone free. In the movie adaptation of the merchant of Venice they have given the play a serious atmosphere to make it seem as if shylock has been victimised.

In the trial seen Shylock is continuously interrupted by the Christians when he is trying to make a point this makes the Christians look prejudice because it shows that they are not even bothered to listen to what shylock has say. My conclusion is that original audiences and contemporary audiences will have a difference in opinion because in the year that the play was written insulting a Jew was not seen as wrong or prejudice but a contemporary audience lives in a multicultural society where everyone is respected for their views of religion even if they are not agreed with.

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