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Is the Merchant of venice a racist play?

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Introduction

IS "THE MERCHANT OF VENICE" A RACIST PLAY? It could be argued that "The Merchant of Venice" is a racist play. This is because Shylock, a Jewish money lender, is often presented as a stereotypical Jew. Nevertheless, Shylock has a human side. Shakespeare's Jew is a much more 'sympathetic' character than the Jew Barabas from Christopher Marlowe's play "The Jew of Malta" In this play Barabas boasts openly about his evil actions:- "I walk abroad o'nights And kill sick people groaning under the walls; Sometimes I go about and poison wells" We can also pick up on small forms of racism towards Shylock that would not have been noticed or have had any attention paid to them at the time the play was written. We are aware of racism towards, among others, Jews because of our recent history, i.e. the extreme racism of the Nazi's "final solution" towards the Jewish race. Shakespeare wanted the characters in his plays to seem obvious and recognisable to his audience from the start. So, from his point of view the money lender had to be Jewish and the borrowers had to be Christian. We must not forget that Christians were forbidden from usury (lending money on interest) ...read more.

Middle

ACT TWO SCENE SIX Here Jessica elopes with Antonio's friend Lorenzo, who is a Christian. This scene may be showing the contrast between the disobedient Jewish daughter and the loyal obedient Christian daughter Portia who obeys her father even after his death. It could be argued that this scene is racist for this reason or it could be simply showing that both Jewish and Christian families are the same because all families have problems regardless of their religion. ACT TWO SCENE SEVEN We meet the Prince of Morocco again in this scene when he is about to make his choice between three caskets one of which, if he chooses the correct one, will enable him to marry Portia. From this scene we learn that the Prince is a very shallow person and does not have a strong religious belief. He says "Some god direct my judgement!" He mocks the inscription on the lead casket and says "A golden mind stops not to show of dross; I'll then nor give nor hazard aught for lead" The Prince is unable to see inner beauty unlike Portia which is why he chooses the gold casket. This is showing us that the Prince and Portia are not compatible .This scene cannot be called racist since we see the Prince of Arragon, another of Portia's suitors, who is white, behaving in the same way as the Prince of Morocco later on in the play. ...read more.

Conclusion

It could be considered that this scene is racist as Shylock's punishment is very severe. He loses his money to his daughter and is forced to become a Christian. Shylocks punishment could be considered extreme however most plays of the same time as the Merchant of Venice was written, and modern plays, have the villain either dying or being harshly punished .This is what an audience expects and even demands. CONCLUSION On balance I would have to argue that "The Merchant of Venice" is not a racist play. Shylock is not a very sympathetic character and could be said to deserve the way he is treated. Jessica, even though she is Jewish, is a good person and so is treated sympathetically. Overall it could be said that Shylock and Antonio are only stereotypes of Jews and Christians for that time. These tie in with the main theme of the play which is inner beauty. If both Jews and Christians were able to put their prejudices aside then they would be able to see the inner beauty in each other. It could be said that looking at the Merchant of Venice and calling it "racist" is an anachronism since racism is a modern word, even though racism can be recognized throughout history. Gawain Williams Gawain Williams ...read more.

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