Prejudice in William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice
The main theme of the Merchant of Venice is of Shylock, a Jew, and
Antonio, a Christian taking part in a deal involving the Jew lending
the Christian a sum of money. The bond they make is that if Antonio
cannot pay Shylock back, Shylock can take legally a pound of Antonio's
flesh as payment. The other plots in the play consist of Jessica,
Shylock's daughter eloping with Lorenzo, another Christian and
Antonio's friend Bassanio, who is courting a rich lady, Portia of
Beaumont who are both of course Christian. Shylock and Tubal, his
Jewish associate, both receive verbal abuse from the Christian groups
Solanio: 'The villain Jew with outcries raised the duke, who sent him
to search Bassanio's ship'
Solanio: 'I never heard a passion so confused, so strange, outrageous,
and so variable, as a dog Jew did utter in the streets'
The Christians such as Solanio and Salerio never refer to Shylock by
his name. They call him Jew as if his name did not matter i.e. as if
he is not worthy of a name, and when referring to him, it is always
with contempt. I think this puts the writer across as prejudice
against non-Christian people and their beliefs. On the other hand,
this story could also put across the point that Shakespeare ridicules
prejudice and discrimination because some phrases in the play where
Christians are prejudice seem to be emphasised ridiculously.
Another point of racial prejudice is conveyed in the sub plot of
Portia's courtship. Left riches by her late father, she is obliged to
obey his will that suitors may come to her mansion and court her, but
before marrying her, must choose and accept what is inside one of
three caskets, one silver, one lead and one gold. This would mean that
a suitor if he chooses the wrong box, would have to leave and live
forever as a bachelor.
One suitor, a prince of Morocco, arrives only to choose the wrong
casket and as he is leaving Portia jokes with her servant Nerissa:
Portia: 'A gentle riddance. Draw the curtains, go.
Let all of his complexion choose me so'
This comes across as Portia mocking the prince's black skin and
blotches the kind and considerate image of Portia that has been
projected to the reader in earlier scenes.
Throughout the play, Shylock is continually mocked and projected as an
His daughter, Jessica eloping with Christian Lorenzo, and taking money
and jewels with her, seems to be a the subject of a sub plot written
with the purpose to ridicule and mock Shylock even more than would
normally be acceptable. Even when Shylock attempts to stand up for
himself and his beliefs, the way in which he does this seems to give
the other characters in the play even more reason to mock...