• Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

Is 'The Merchant of Venice' a racist play?

Extracts from this document...

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.

The above preview is unformatted text

This student written piece of work is one of many that can be found in our GCSE The Merchant of Venice section.

Found what you're looking for?

  • Start learning 29% faster today
  • 150,000+ documents available
  • Just £6.99 a month

Not the one? Search for your essay title...
  • Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

See related essaysSee related essays

Related GCSE The Merchant of Venice essays

  1. Merchant of Venice - Comparing and Contrasting Antonio and Shylock

    Shylock is very envious of Antonio. So many people want Shylock to forget about the bound and accept more money. Jessica emphasises that even before the ships had sunk, Shylock had hoped that Antonio would not be able to pay.

  2. Background to the "Merchant of Venice."

    It's funny to think that they hate Shylock so much but still expect him to let Antonio off the bond. If we look at the next couple of lines we see why. And where thou now exact'st the penalty, Which is a pound of this poor merchant's flesh, (Lines 22 & 23)

  1. Shylock is a tragic figure, trapped by prejudice and driven to revenge by the ...

    his list but it reinforces Shylock's prejudice driving him to revenge, and as with everything the main reasons are the financial ones. Antonio charges no interest to Christians and so therefore steals half of Shylock's potential business. This is the main reason why Shylock scorns Antonio, although we cannot assume

  2. The Merchant of Venice

    Portia states that 'Though justice be thy plea, consider this:....To mitigate the justice of thy plea,' in this speech, she is promoting the idea that the New Testament teaches mercy and that the Old Testament does not. This shows that she has anti-Semitism and pro-Christian thoughts, which paints Shylock to be a victim.

  1. THE MERCHANT OF VENICE IS A RACIST PLAY. DISCUSS.

    had converted to Christianity in order to be able to stay in their homes. They had been banned from the country in 1290, and to the Elizabethan audience, they were something of a myth - the closest thing to a Jew they had seen were interpretations of one in theatre.

  2. The Merchant Of Venice

    The words "as I bid" show that Shylock is superior in the household. Jessica also wants to elope with Lorenzo as she is in love with him and because he is a Christian her father, Shylock would never approve of them together.

  1. To what extent were Shylock and Antonios behaviour and actions dictated by social contempory ...

    During this point in history, six million Jews lost their lives and the constant victimisation which Shylock and the Jews had to endure in this play was just one example of this appalling suffering they experienced throughout history.

  2. Women Struggling To Escape As A Theme In Cousin Kate , A Willing Mistress ...

    The ?return?d? her lover many ?kisses?, she gives in to passion, which would have been seen as virtuous and dishonest in the 17th century. However, the actual intent of the author is not to show that women were equal to men in the 17th Century, but women desired to be equal to men in the 1600s.

  • Over 160,000 pieces
    of student written work
  • Annotated by
    experienced teachers
  • Ideas and feedback to
    improve your own work