The Merchant of Venice: Who shows more prejudice, the Christians or the Jews?

Authors Avatar

Coursework- The Merchant of Venice: Who shows more prejudice, the Christians or the Jews?

The Merchant of Venice is a play about prejudice, racism, and stereotyping. In this essay I shall discuss the different views that the Christians and the Jews have of each other in the play 'The Merchant of Venice', and comment on them. I shall decide which nation shows the most prejudice toward the other. The Oxford dictionary definition of prejudice is: 'Irrational dislike of something or someone showing no logic.' I shall be discussing how Shakespere conveys this through his characters, and how the prejudice effects the audience of Elizabethan times and of today. Most of the prejudice in this play is centred upon two of the main characters, (Antonio a Christian and Shylock a Jew), so I shall be concentrating on them.

The first sign of prejudice in this play is from the Jew Shylock. When Antonio first appears in the third scene Shylock says aside to the audience 'I hate him for he is a Christian.' This is prejudice because Shylock seems to give no other indication to why he hates Antonio other than the reason that he is a Christian. Shylock is stereotyping Antonio as a Christian and saying he hates him because the Jews have always been persecuted by the Christians because they blame the Jews for putting Christ to death; and so in retaliation, the Jews have always disliked the Christians as well. Another reason that the Christians didn't like the Jews was because they needed them. Jews were traditionally stereotyped as money lenders, and although not every Jew was one, most were. It was against the law to be a money lender in Elizabethan England, and so although people didn't want to borrow money, they had to. The Jews were the people that the Christians needed, and so they disliked them. Jews hated the Christians for hating them. Shylock however then goes on to say that he also hates Antonio because he is bad for business. Antonio lends money to his friends without charging interest. Therefore Antonio must also be showing prejudice towards Shylock when he says 'I am as like to call thee so again, to spet on thee so, to spurn thee too.' This is said after an angry speech from Shylock complaining about how Antonio is prejudiced towards him. Antonio I think shows much more prejudice than Shylock here because he has no reason for spitting on or kicking Shylock apart from the fact that he is a jew. Shylock hates Antonio partly because of the lack of business. In Shakesperian times you would applaud Antonio for treating the Jew badly, but a modern audience would feel uncomfortable watching this scene.

When the Prince of Morocco comes to Belmont to win Portia's hand in marriage he makes a strong spech about how she mustn't show prejudice towards him because he is black. 'Mislike me not for my complexion.' Portia is not prejudiced towards him, but earlier in the play she joked with her servant about men from different countries. Portia stereotyped each one to the country that they came from. 'How do you like the young German?' 'Very viley in the morning when he is sober, and most viley in the afternoon when he is drunk'. This is not serious prejudice however, as Portia and Nerissa are just having some fun. They are stereotyping these men to men they may have met in the past, or have heard about.

Join now!

More prejudice is shown when Salario and Solanio review what has happened to Bassanio. They talk about how Shylock has lost everything, and is running round Venice shouting 'My daughter! O my ducats! O my daughter and my ducats!' A Shakesperian audience would find it shocking that a Jewish girl has run away with a Christian, but a modern audience would think nothing of it. Therefore at this point a Shakesperian audience would be feeling a bit more sympathy towards Shylock. Salario and Solanio are making fun of Shylock's loss when Shylock is so distressed:

'As the dog ...

This is a preview of the whole essay