Ever since I was young and started gaining knowledge about Shakespearean plays, I believed that all of Shakespeare’s works, were plays that one would read to hear a entertaining, happy story; but, it was not until this term, after reading The Merchant of Venice, that I recognised the darker, more sinister, side of Shakespeare’s plays. Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice supports the Jewish, anti-semitic stereotype as the wicked character Shylock is developed. Many individuals fear that it is improper to teach and discuss The Merchant of Venice in high school because of the negative way it presents Jews or the outdated language barrier; however, I believe that it is important to read this controversial play in high schools because it enables students to learn anti-semitic history and because reading Shakespeare’s works, due to their complexity, expands the literary mind of those who read it.
At first when I was reading the play I acknowledged the hatred and discrimination towards Jews, a form of racism identified as anti-semitism. It is so important for people to recognise how Jews were portrayed during Shakespeare’s life so that historic events such as the holocaust do not repeat themselves. Teachers who plan on presenting their students with The Merchant of Venice should also present them with articles explaining how Jews received their negative stereotype and explain to them that Jews are not as evil as Shylock. The play can still be useful as a high school reading experience only if taught in a manner that avoids Jews being insulted and non-Jews getting a completely flawed idea about Jews. Without proper instruction from teachers, non-Jewish students could maybe begin to express hate towards Jews because of the negative way Shakespeare portrays Shylock. Jewishness is one of his primary characteristics; he emphasises it himself, and it is emphasised for him by everyone with whom he has dealings. Many times in the play, such as when Lancelot asks Bassanio for work and states, “To be brief, the very truth is that the Jew having done me wrong…”, Shylock is referred to as a Jew and he and other characters have lines that reflect the Jewish stereotype that originated in the late 13th century when Jews were expelled from England and the first crusade was launched. The Merchant of Venice can be a great experience for high school students if they recognise that the Jew clearly did live on the edge of society and that in the role of the mysterious outsider, he was a perfect and ready-made scapegoat for anyone who wished to exploit him as such.
Many will argue that Shakespeare’s works are too complex to understand due to the 400 year language gap but I would say that Shakespeare’s works, due to their complexity, expands the literary mind of those who read it. It challenges the readers understanding of the roots of the modern English language. Shakespeare utilises a linguistic technique which is known as functional shift that requires, for example using a noun to serve as a verb. Researchers discovered that this technique allows the brain to understand what a word means before it understands the function of the word within a sentence. This procedure causes a sudden peak in brain activity and forces the brain to work backwards in order to fully understand what Shakespeare is trying to say.
The morals presented throughout the story hold importance in enabling students to learn anti-semitic history and, due to their complexity, expands the literary mind of those who read it. I do believe it is very important to read or watch this contentious play in high schools due to the complexity it holds which expands the knowledge of those who undergo the challenge of studying this play.
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