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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? Throughout the text 'The Merchant of Venice' presents a main them of anti Semitic racism both anti Jewish and anti Christian. The play is set in Venice, an ancient civic republic and not a nation ruled by a king or queen. However it reflects London in the late 1500's. Venice was also a trading centre of great importance. It presents a father daughter relationship where she will not be accepted to love a Christian. This shows strong racism within the community. However racism is ever present in today's society in many forms. The play centres on the two main characters, Antonio an extremely wealthy merchant and shylock a very wealthy Jew. Here there are negative feelings and attitudes between the two characters. This is mainly to do with the different religions. During the late 1500's in Venice racism was a strong and dramatic issue. The Jews were treated as an inferior race. Harsh laws were passed against them. These stopped the Jews from marriage between non-Jews and Jews. Jews were thought to be bad and were sent to special areas called 'Jewish Ghetto's' or were humiliated or maltreated in public. The conditions in the 'Jewish Ghetto's' were horrific. There was also a Jewish 'synagogue' within the 'Ghetto's'. Curfews were placed and a lack of freedom was given. They could only have a few professions. ...read more.

Middle

This intensifies the idea that the Christian community was clearly not pleased. This may have created negative attitudes towards all Jews. We can imply that Shylock wants revenge for what he has personally suffered. I can understand that 'The Merchant of Venice' presents racism in different forms. However it reflects the social historical background to the treatment of the Jews. This treatment of racial abuse had caused Shylock to seek revenge on Antonio. From Act Two we can suggest that Shylock is prejudiced when his daughter Jessica elopes with her Christian lover Lorenzo, who is one of Bassanio's friends. Also we see racism present in Solanio as he says, "the villain Jew". This implies that Solanio is openly racist. Shylock's response is harsh and very prejudicial against the Christians, "would any of the stock Barabbas had been her husband, rather than a Christians". We can understand that he is so irritated and angry that he compares Lorenzo to a Jewish criminal set free instead of Christ. This portrays an idea that Shylock wishes that Jessica had married any Jew, no matter how bad, rather than a Christian. These feelings are clearly racist. On the other hand underneath, the hatred is much greater. This depicts how deep his prejudice goes against Christians. Shylock conveys, "the dog Jew". This suggests racial criticism. However Shylock says, "oh my ducats!" this clarifies that Shylock appears to be more worried about his money. ...read more.

Conclusion

This becomes apparent in the line, "if every ducat in six thousand ducats were in six parts, and every part a ducat. I would not draw them. I would have my bond!" This clearly indicates Shylock only wants the pound of Antonio's flesh. Shylock says, "the pound of flesh which I demand of him is dearly bought, 't is mine and I will have it". Shylock was clearly saying that he owns the pound of flesh and it is his property therefore he shall have it. I feel that this is not racist, as he wants vengeance and it could be seen as a more personal grudge. Although the Dukes behaviour was rather surprising considering the fact that he was supposed to be impartial but he was clearly supporting Antonio, "I am sorry for thee, thou art come to answer A stone adversary, an inhuman wretch, uncapable of mercy". The Duke's actions are unfair therefore it was impossible for the Duke to give a fair hearing. However Portia comes in and poses as male, Balthazar a lawyer in disguise to try and save Antonio's life. Balthazar's opening speech begins with, "the quality of mercy is not strained". This conveys that he is trying to explain that mercy cannot be forced, you can't compel someone to show mercy if they are not merciful. This statement is obviously aimed at Shylock as he claims, "On what compulsion must I?" This suggests the fact that he is going to show no sympathy what so ever. ...read more.

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