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A Product of His Society? Merchant & Midsummer

Uploaded by WiggleDemon on Nov 26, 2002

It is hard to determine whether or not Shakespearean comedy is clearly a product of Elizabethan courtly society. It can be said that the answer to that question is both yes and no. It is apparent in The Merchant of Venice that Shakespeare’s writing was strongly influenced by the society surrounding him while A Midsummer Nights Dream is much less realistic and so original that one might think he came from another time period all together.

In The Merchant of Venice there are countless examples of how Shakespeare’s works were a product of society. One of the main similarities is religion. The official established state religion in Shakespeare’s time was the Church of England, lucidly Protestant. Everyone was required to attend an Anglican Service once a month. The Anglican service is also called Prayer Service, Prayer Book Service, Common Prayer, or the Lord’s Supper. Although it was not expressly illegal to be of a different religion, it was not exactly legal to practice the faith of ones choice. There were even fines for not conforming to the sanctioned religion; that is, for not going to Protestant services. (Nicoll, 76) Jewish people were quite rare in England during the Elizabethan time period and they seemed to be looked down upon the most (although it was not considered a lot better to be a Catholic). Shakespeare probably never knew a Jewish person directly, but during his time the Queen’s Jewish doctor was executed for being ‘a spy’. Also, during that time it would have been considered quite normal to force someone to convert to Christianity. Shakespeare’s Venice had the same mentality about Jewish people. Anti-Semitism was overwhelmingly abundant. Although Shylock was surely a respectable businessman, it did not seem out of the ordinary for Antonio to spit on him and call him a dog whenever it took his fancy. Shylock seems to be the only one who realizes the hypocrisy of the ‘good Christians’ and makes mention of it in his famed speech in Act III:

SHYLOCK… Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions; fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer as a Christian is? If you prick us do we not bleed? If you tickle us do we not laugh? If you poison us do we not...

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Uploaded by:   WiggleDemon

Date:   11/26/2002

Category:   Shakespeare

Length:   6 pages (1,368 words)

Views:   1352

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