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The Bard’s Dark Doppelganger
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  2. Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice: Shylock
  3. Shylock is Shakespeare - AbeBooks - Kenneth Gross:
  4. Hath not a Jew Eyes? Unpacking Shakespeare’s Shylock

What explains that exceptionally long life, especially for a character who disappears before the end of the story that he does so much to propel? The resulting character is a psychologically rich and complex human being who took on a life outside the theater. Both Shakespeare and Shylock, Gross says, are masters of manipulation and both revel in putting on a performance.

Gross takes them seriously, recognizing that The Merchant of Venice has been staged to rally political sentiments across the spectrum.

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Like a clown, he turns his powerlessness and humiliation to his dramatic advantage. And Shylock has a blunt, arresting eloquence that can both flatter his audience and put it in its place. He wanted to achieve certain theatrical effects by using the inherited figure of the usurious, conniving, manipulative Jew, partly following the example of Christopher Marlowe in The Jew of Malta. The character grew under his hands, energizing his comedy and simultaneously throwing its structure off balance. This was particularly attractive because it let him externalize—and set at a distance—something about his work for the stage.

Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice: Shylock

He even found a name that echoed his own. Shylock and Shakespeare are both professional gamblers, as a critic once said. They play with loaded dice and carry out their contracts to the letter. They are pitiless, even in their generosity.

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Shakespeare breeds binding words as mysteriously as Shylock says he breeds gold and silver. And both create terrible scenes that hold up mirrors to the needs and fears of their listeners, even as they both expose and conceal their own needs, fears and sense of loss. Staging Shylock helps Shakespeare imagine the profits and potential costs of his hazardous game—being the kind of dramatist he is or aspires to be. He does something similar, if less extreme, with such doubles as Prospero and Hamlet.

We hear its echo all through the Dark Ages; and the genius of Shakespeare voiced it as it had never been voiced before - or since. Shylock is a man more sinned against than sinning, whom the inhumanity of the whole world has made inhuman. Long brooding over the shameful treatment of his people has marred his character and dried up the founts of tenderness in his bosom.

Shylock is Shakespeare - AbeBooks - Kenneth Gross:

Occupying middle ground between these two extremes is the interpretation which regards Shylock as essentially the conventional avaricious, bloodthirsty Jew, a neighbour and near bred to Marlowe's monster, the Jew of Malta , but humanized by what Boas has called Shakespeare's 'almost superhuman, plastic power' - humanized sufficiently to win for him, in certain scenes especially, a measure - a large measure it may be - of the reader's sympathy, but not enough to justify the interpretation given above, which makes Shylock and not Antonio the hero of the play.

This interpretation, as given in Ward's History of English Dramatic Literature , [10] is as follows, " It is, I am convinced, only modern readers and modern actors who suppose that Shakespeare consciously intended to arouse the sympathy of his audience in behalf of the Jew. The sympathy which, notwithstanding, is aroused, is in truth merely the adventitious result of the unconscious tact with which the poet humanized the character. In both Shakespeare's and Marlowe's plays the view inculcated is, that on the part of a Jew fraud is the sign of his tribe, whereas on the part of Christians counter-fraud, though accompanied by violence, is worthy of commendation.

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  2. Shakespeare's Presentation of Shylock in The Merchant of Venice.
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  4. This I cannot but regard as the primary effect of the whole of either play. The psychological distinction in the conception of the two principal characters lies, not in the nature of the elements out of which they are compounded - avarice, cruelty, revengefulness, with no softening element but that of paternal love, and this only till it is quenched in the sense of a daughter's desertion - but in the way in which these elements are combined.

    The art of Shakespeare is immeasurably superior to that of Marlowe in not allowing either avarice or lust of vengeance to attain to such a pitch in his Jew as to take the character out of the range of human nature.

    In contrast with the unrelieved blackness of Barabas, the character of Shylock remains both truly human and within the limits of dramatic probability. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia, p. Even charming, gentle Mrs.

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    Inchbald believed that Shakespeare's purpose in writing the play was to 'hold up the Jew to detestation,' and such undoubtedly was the general impression created by the 'snarling malignity' of Macklin's Shylock []. Inchbald's opinions in regard to dramatic literature were evidently esteemed by her contemporaries, as she edited with biographical and critical remarks three collections of plays, aggregating forty-two volumes, in addition to writing nineteen dramas of her own, some of which were for a time, according to the Encyclopaedia Britannica , 'very successful.

    Hudson, Ginn and Company, Boston, p. Professor Lounsbury refers in his Shakespeare as a Dramatic Artist , p. It would appear, then, that, as early as , to this member of the University of Oxford the treatment of Shylock in the trial-scene was not altogether satisfactory. Hales, The Athenmum , 15 December, Shakespeare as a Dramatic Artist , Thomas R. The reader will not, as a matter of course, assume that the whole point of view of any commentator is given in a single quotation. Professor Lounsbury's chief care here is not to justify Shylock, but to come fairly off in his purpose of illustrating the 'art' with which Shakespeare makes us reconciled to the conclusion of the trial scene - the greater the difficulty, the greater the art.

    Hath not a Jew Eyes? Unpacking Shakespeare’s Shylock

    In this case the task set before the poet was one of peculiar difficulty' Whatever may have been the guilt and bloodthirstiness of Shylock, one cannot get entirely over the impression that he is a hardly used man. It is strange to reflect, too, that just at the time when, on the English stage, one Mediterranean Jew was poisoning his daughter, and another whetting his knife to cut his debtor's flesh, thousands of heroic and enthusiastic Hebrews in Spain and Portugal, who, after the expulsion of the three hundred thousand at the beginning of the century, had secretly remained faithful to Judaism, were suffering themselves to be tortured, flayed, burnt alive by the Inquisition, rather than forswear the religion of their race.

    The Macmillan Company, New York. How to cite this article: Jones, Richard and Franklin T. Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice. Appleton and Company, Shakespeare Online. All Rights Reserved.