Compare And Contrast Stereotypes In Shakespeare's Merchant Of Venice And Othello

2075 words - 8 pages

In both of Shakespeare’s plays, "Othello" and "The Merchant of Venice", there are several instances in which the non-white and non-Christian characters are marginalized and are often the victims of prejudice and outright racism. This occurs in both "Merchant of Venice" and "Othello" particularly through the use and power of language and terms of reference. What is most fascinating about this seeming racism and bias against these characters, Othello and Shylock, is that they aren’t represented in either text as completely fitting the villainous or negative stereotypes other characters wish to put them in. Both Othello and Shylock are presented as sympathetic to varying degrees and although they posses several character flaws that some of the white and Christian characters wish to attribute to their race (Jewish as greedy and heartless and Moors as savage and barbarous) Shakespeare does not completely rely on these stereotypes to draw his characters of these two men. Although Shylock is indeed money-hungry, greedy, and oftentimes heartless, he is still portrayed sympathetically at points and his faults are not shown to be something associated with his race. Othello, most notably at the end of the play commits a savage act, but throughout the rest of the text, he is shown to be mild-mannered and exceptionally “civilized” as a general and aristocrat. This softening allows the characters to be represented as more rounded, but the fact still remains that racial bias and outright racism and prejudice are present in both texts.

In "The Merchant of Venice", the Jewish moneylender, Shylock (full character analysis here) seems to fit the stereotype common in Shakespeare’s time of the greedy and unfeeling Jew. Although we are not told about the racial bias by any narrator, several of the characters refer to him using racial epithets, Antonio in particular. Although stated in the past tense, as Shylock accumulates the bill for Antonio, he cannot help but remember the times he had been termed as a “misbeliever, cut-throat, hound” and all the times that Antonia has, as stated in one of the important quotes from "The Merchant Venice" by Shakespeare, “spit upon [his] Jewish gabardine” (I.iii.107–108). Although Antonio is the most guilt of throwing out the racist insults, there is always the background cacophony of these ideas being bandied about amongst the several minor characters.

For example, when Shylock believes he is losing his daughter, the “throwaway” characters, Salerio and Solanio attempt to express Shylock’s feelings by exclaiming in one of the important quotes from "The Merchant of Venice" by Shakespeare, “My daughter! O, my ducats! O, my daughter!” suggesting that Shylock ranks his wealth equal to that of the love of his family (II.viii.15). In The Merchant of Venice, it doesn’t seem to matter who is making the racist comments since the fact remains that these statements are so apparent throughout the text that they cannot be ignored or put...

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