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The Merchant of Venice English GCSE coursework One of the reasons Shakespeares plays have always been popular is because of their appeal to different audiences In the Merchant of Venice Shakespeare produces a quite intricate play bringing up the question of racism and morality for some of the more educated members of Elizabethan audience whereas for others mainly the ill-educated groundlings it is simply a tale of an evil Jew who eventually receives his comeuppance It is important first to establish that views on Jews and usury at the time were very different from what they are now Anti-Semitism had been present in England ever since Jews first arrived Stories had been contrived of them stealing babies drinking sacrificial blood and forcing adult circumcisions They were the scapegoats for everything Jews had been banished from England since 1290 and only around 1000 converts to Christianity remained in London around the time Shakespeare was writing In 1591 Marlowe produced The Jew of Malta in which the main character Barabus the Jew was portrayed as very evil and was responsible for the murder of his daughter and a convent of Christian nuns Then in 1594 extreme anti-Semitic feelings were aroused when Queen Elizabeth I was visited by the Portuguese pretender to the throne Don Antonio A Portuguese physician Lopez was tried and convicted almost certainly wrongly of attempted poison of both the queen and Don Antonio He was hanged drawn and quartered This prompted a huge surge in anti-Jewish attitudes in the public and the Jew of Malta was revived a year after the incident It was on this wave of anti-Semitism that Shakespeare wrote the Merchant of Venice in 1597 and it is clear from the very beginning that he takes full advantage of this to enliven his Elizabethan audience At a first glance therefore the play would appear to be anti-Semitic with Shylock traditionally being played by a big nosed actor with a bright
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