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Religion In The Merchant Of Venice

1949 words - 8 pages

Religion was a major factor in a number of Shakespeare’s plays. Religion motivated action and reasoning. In Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice,” religion was more than a belief in a higher being; it reflected moral standards and ways of living. In the “Merchant of Venice,” “a Christian ethic of generosity, love, and risk-taking friendship is set in pointed contrast with a non-Christian ethic that is seen, from a Christian point of view, as grudging, resentful, and self-calculating.” (Bevington, pg. 74) Although Shakespeare writes this drama from a Christian point of view he illustrates religion by conflicts of the Old Testament and the New Testament in Venetian society and its court of law. These Testaments are tested through the Christians and Jews of Venice.
Venice, where this drama takes place, is a largely religious Italian City. Although filled with spiritual people, the city is divided into two different religious groups. Venice was primarily and dominantly a Christian society with Jews as it’s unfairly treated minority. Stereotypes classified Jews as immoral, evil, and foolish people while the Christians were graceful, merciful, and loving. Representing the Christian belief is Antonio who is summoned to court by a Jew who goes by the name Shylock. The cross between Christianity and Judaism begins as Antonio and Shylock create a legally binding bond. The bond’s fine print expresses that if Antonio cannot fulfill his debt to Shylock, Shylock will receive a pound of Antonio’s flesh. As learned in the play, Antonio cannot repay his debt and Shylock publically exclaims his need to receive fulfillment of that bond. Hastily, Shylock is determined to obtain his pound of Christian flesh. Shakespeare provides his audience distinct differences between Antonio and Shylock. The contrast between Antonio and Shylock are comparable and somewhat parallel to the New Testament that Christians practice and to the Old Testament that Shylock adheres to.
First, we see Antonio, a soft-hearted and morose Christian gentleman whose riches cannot provide him the fulfillment that others deem appropriate. He is sad because he lacks love. To fulfill that love, he assists Bassano in his own quest to pursue love. Though usually depicted as a homosexual relationship, it is a portrayal of love between friends or brothers, another type of bond. This act of bonding puts Antonio in gracious light. He helps his loved one by borrowing money from Shylock and pawns his life to strengthen that bond. This reinforced bondage reflects Antonio’s selflessness, God-like quality, and most importantly Christian morality.
Shylock on the other hand is not put on the same pedestal as Antonio. As the Jewish representation of Venice, Shylock, “as a usurer, refuses to lend money interest-free in the name of friendship.” (Bevington, pg. 76) This act of usury in the eyes of Christianity is considered sinful, immoral and inhumane. Instead of lending money interest-free he applies...

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