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THE MERCHANT OF VENICE IS A RACIST PLAY. DISCUSS.

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Introduction

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.

Middle

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.

Conclusion

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.

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