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


Extracts from this document...


THE MERCHANT OF VENICE IS A RACIST PLAY. DISCUSS. Since the very early ages, discrimination against people of different races has always existed in society. People with different coloured skin, people from different religions and people from different countries are often stereotypes, and some people are prejudice about these people and act on the prejudice. This is known as racism. Shakespeare's play "The Merchant of Venice" is full of ambiguity about racism. The two main points of racism to be pointed out are firstly, the use of racial stereotyping mainly by what the characters say, and the other is one of the main characters, Shylock, who is a Jew. The intention of the play is still undecided to this day, no-one is sure if Shakespeare was intending to be anti-Semitic or if he was wanted completely the opposite. However, several quotes in the play are undoubtedly racist, for example, 'If he have the condition of a saint, and the complexion of a devil, I had rather he should shrive me than wive me', which comes from Portia about the Prince of Morocco. Quotes such as these are undoubtedly racist since saying that she wouldn't marry the perfect man if he was black is a very emotive thing to say. The condemning of Judaism however, is used much more. The word 'Jew' is often replaced for 'Dog', and the religion is often linked to the Devil, for example Launcelot says 'The Jew is the very devil incarnation'. ...read more.


The first mention of racism between Shylock and Antonio is in fact from Shylock, when he says "I hate him for he is a Christian". Although we find out later that in fact it is more the hatred from Antonio that matters, since it is the first mentioned racist slur, we are encouraged to form a negative impression of Shylock. Shylock is also depicted as evil and bloodthirsty when he makes his agreement that he may have a pound of Antonio's flesh. The fact that he turns down triple the amount of money and is so insistent to have his bond ("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"), could also be implying he is bloodthirsty. A rumour among Christians was that Jews actually did eat human flesh, and since there were no Jews in the country, no-one was there to deny this rumour and it was generally believed. He is also portrayed as an extremely uncaring person; when his daughter Jessica runs away, he seems to value his money more than his daughter, or at least values them equally. All these insults towards Shylock's character imply the play was indeed racist, but another view is that it is just the characters who are racist, and not necessarily Shakespeare's views. The reason Shylock wanted the pound of flesh was revenge - "So can I give no reason, nor I will not, more than a lodged hate and a certain loathing I bear Antonio". ...read more.


The lines uttered by Portia about the various nobles could all easily be the stereotypes, and I think this is the intention. It would have been greatly enjoyed by the audience, since this is a great factor of comedy even to this day. The Prince of Morocco, at his first mention, is insulted for his race. 'If he have the condition of a saint, and the complexion of a devil, I had rather he should shrive me than wive me' Portia says, and even on his entry, he says 'mistake me not for my complexion'. There were no black people in England at the time, and if there were, they would have been strongly discriminated against. This racial slur would be the norm at the time, however as a mixed race society today would recognise this as very racist. My personal response to the play is that it is indeed racist; however only to the extent that it explores the racial prejudice endemic in society at that time and man's cruelty and hypocrisy. I think Shakespeare wanted to show that people who weren't white and Christian, had feelings and emotions too; how we are all human beings. However, to get this point across, he has to weave a story that included romantic love and comedy in order for it to be accepted by society at the time. The strong emotional speeches given to Shylock would make people think about how Jews were mistreated, and the issues of equality may have resonated with the audience long after the performance was over. ...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. The play "The Merchant of Venice" is described as Romantic Comedy. One aspect of ...

    better than meanness yet generosity is not the word for a Jessica who exchanged a turquoise ring for a monkey and spent "four score ducats in a night". Life with Shylock must have been grim but the ring Jessica steals and then exchanges for monkey was the ring her mother gave to her father.

  2. Discuss the view that 'The Merchant of Venice' is a comedy with tragic possibilities.

    Also Launcelot has left Shylock to be the servant of Bassanio instead and Shylock is left with no one as his wife is deceased. You could call the Christians the evil ones as they are prejudice against Shylock and steal all things of value from him.

  1. 'Is, 'The Merchant of Venice' a racist play? Discuss'.

    To exaggerate this Barabas' would always show a large amount of energy and humour on stage. As well as being shown as a murderous villain, the humour that he showed would also encourage the audience to like as well as dislike him.

  2. The Merchant of Venice is a racist play - Discuss

    The more he grieves, the more the mock him and it's easy to see why Shylock becomes so hardened and vengeful, anyone would, being subjected to hate, ridicule, and mockery like that. In his soliloquy Shylock is mighty convincing, as he asks "Has not a Jew, blood, passions, feelings, etc.,

  1. to what extent can the Merchant of Venice be seen as a fairytale

    the laws of Venice, confiscate/ Unto the state of Venice', which is impossible, therefore freeing Antonio. When he is in trouble it is only the strength and reasoning of a woman that will save him. Shakespeare shows that Elizabethan audience not to disregard women (which is what was the norm

  2. Is 'The Merchant of Venice' a racist play?

    Instead he offers himself as a guarantee. Shylock has agreed to give Antonio a sum of money, but did not charge interest he insisted, "let the forfeit be nominated for an equal pound of your fair flesh, to be cut off and taken in what part of your body pleaseth me".

  1. How helpful is it to call the 'Merchant of Venice' a comedy?

    The 'ring bond' which both Bassanio and Gratiano make with their lovers could also be regarded as a comic event in the 'Merchant of Venice'. It is made clear in Act III Scene ii that if "this ring, Which when one parts from, Presages the ruin of love" (L171-173).

  2. Is the Merchant of venice a racist play?

    a merchant of Venice, by the skilful questioning of Antonio by his companions Solanio and Salarino we, the audience, are shown that Antonio is sad. We get the impression that this is because Antonio is in love; - Solanio and Salarino ask "Why then, you are in love?"

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