the uses of language
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Language was Shakespeare's number one tool for characterization. What makes Shakespeare different from earlier writers and other writers of his own time, in fact, is that in Shakespeare different characters have different styles of speaking, and the way in which many characters speak, although stylized, seems to be a very good reflection of the ways in which people speak in real life. In this respect, Shylock is one of Shakespeare's most interesting and colorful characters. (Iago in Othello is another, as Frank Kermode points out in his very enlightening book Shakespeare's Language.) There is something about Shylock's speech patterns that is somehow very Jewish.
Shylock appears in only five scenes of the play, and in each scene his language is different. But there is something very comic about his language and at the same time a little distasteful, rather sleazy.
Throughout the seventeen and eighteenth centuries, Shylock was always played at a comic villain, up until Edmund Kean's performance in 1814. Not comic in the sense of a comedian who makes us laugh, but rather a ridiculous figure who is that butt of our laughter. To me, it seems clear from the language of the text that this is what Shakespeare intended, although there is certainly also some almost inescapable pathos in the portrayal of the Jew.
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