"I find it impossible to think of Shylock as a really nice chap; he is just better quality stuff than any of the Christians in the play. They are truly vile, heartless, money-grabbing monsters, and when Shylock makes his final exit, destroyed by defeat, one should sense that our Christian brothers are at last thoroughly ashamed of them-selves. The Merchant of Venice is horrid, cruel, and one of the most popular plays in the whole collected volume of Shakespeare." Laurence Olivier Well, there you have it. My opinion of the Merchant of Venice rolled into one quotation by Mr. Olivier.
I was hesitant to have anything to do with the Merchant of Venice after I first read it; all possible intrigue had dissolved as I read passages such as the following: "He hath disgraced me and hindered me half a million, laughed at my losses, mocked my gains, scorned my nation, thwarted my bargains, cooled my friends, heated mine enemies, and what's his reason I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions... If you prick us, do we not bleed If you tickle us, do we not laugh If you poison us, do we not die" (III. 1. 49-55, 58-60) That tears at my very soul! ! ! This play was to me a biting farce written to satisfy a bloody crowd.
Later, I found two seemingly opposing facts about the Merchant. The Merchant of Venice and Othello are the two Shakespearean plays which have sparked the most controversy (No surprise there, huh), AND The Merchant of Venice is the most controversial and BELOVED play in Israel. Ok. I was forced to ask myself how a play which was used to incite riots by Joseph Goebbels, Hitler's minister of propaganda, could be beloved by the very people who are struck down in the play. Apparently there are various readings of The Merchant of Venice which I had not considered at first. Perhaps the play is neither pro-Jewish, nor pro-Christian.
Sure, Shylock is painted as a money-hung Jew throughout the Merchant, "My daughter, O my ducats! My ducats, O my daughter!" Shylock is enraged his daughter has eloped with a Christian, but perhaps he is more concerned with the fate of his money. Antonio, a Christian, has borrowed money from Shylock and refuses to pay it back. Here the reader may find a Jew-hating man who publicly spits on Shylock, and suffers from the grief of an unfulfilled homo-erotic relationship. Plainly, it can be seen that the Christians in this play are far from holy or perfect. The illustrations which show neither the Jew nor the Christian tobe perfect are countless.
I feel better reading the play now that Have the option to view Shakespeare as a man of his time who was able to step away from the prejudices of the world in which he lived, and present injustice as he saw it.