Society places value on a person based either on who they are, what they believe, or how much money they make. What happens when society places value on how “normal” a person is? Using the texts of “Merchant of Venice” and “Taming of the Shrew” I will argue that in dealing with difference, society often unintentionally annihilates it; but what remains in its wake is often far more disturbing.
Religion is one of the most dividing forces in a society. At the time of “Merchant of Venice” Jews were seen as everything that was an external threat to England’s national welfare. They were known as the enemy within the English culture. The feudalist Christians viewed them as dirty, obsessed with ...view middle of the document...
Due to this divide on a fundamental level, the main figures in Venetian society mistreat Shylock because he is a Jew, not based on who he is as a person. This mistreatment comes primarily from Antonio, who cannot accept someone who is not “normal” by the definition that the Christian church places on it. The treatment Shylock receives is not of an equal, or even of a human. He is treated like an animal who needs to be punished for not obeying the rules. Shakespeare plays with the reader by making Shylock seem human in certain moments, but then turns around and has him say things like demanding a pound of flesh from Antonio because it is his right.
What judgment shall I dread, doing no wrong?
You have among you many a purchased slave,
Which, like your asses and your dogs and mules,
You use in abject and in slavish parts,
Because you bought them: shall I say to you,
Let them be free, marry them to your heirs?
Why sweat they under burthens? let their beds
Be made as soft as yours and let their palates
Be season'd with such viands? You will answer
'The slaves are ours:' so do I answer you:
The pound of flesh, which I demand of him,
Is dearly bought; 'tis mine and I will have it.
If you deny me, fie upon your law!
There is no force in the decrees of Venice.
I stand for judgment: answer; shall I have it? (IV.i.90-104)
He feels entirely justified in asking for this pound of flesh. The Christian church wants him to act like them and to let go of who he is. They get their wish; he transforms from a man who had a family and minded his own business into the cruel person that they had taught him to be by forcing their beliefs on Shylock while not acting how they preached during the trial scene.
I pray you, think you question with the Jew:
You may as well go stand upon the beach
And bid the main flood bate his usual height;
You may as well use question with the wolf
Why he hath made the ewe bleat for the lamb;
You may as well forbid the mountain pines
To wag their high tops and to make no noise,
When they are fretten with the gusts of heaven;
You may as well do anything most hard,
As seek to soften that--than which what's harder?--
His Jewish heart: therefore, I do beseech you,
Make no more offers, use no farther means,
But with all brief and plain conveniency
Let me have judgment and the Jew his will.
The Christian society had the goal of making him normal, but ends up being shocked and
unhappy with the results of their meddling. (IV.i.71-84)
Antonio compares Shylock to a wolf, telling Bassanio that any attempt to reason with an animal is pointless because hatred and predation are preset in a man like Shylock. In doing this, he not only is insulting Shylock and all Jews, but is showing that the values he claims Christians hold, the ones that place value in who a person is, are not ones that he himself possesses. He tries to destroy who Shylock is again, this time in front of a judge as well as other Christians. Once a...