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RACISM AND PREJUDICE IN MERCHANT OF VENICE

Yes, ladies and gentlemen and people who are of otherwise genders, as the title goes, so does the content :>

REVIEWS

Dihaan Khan

10/19/20232 min read

Racism/ Prejudice: Penned by the infamous English author, William Shakespeare, the play ‘Merchant of Venice’ is set in 16th century Venice, Italy, one of the epicenters and dominant times of the tumultuous art movement known as the Renaissance. Amidst the dwindling cast of intricately crafted characters in the play, we find most to be Christians, leaving little room for diversity of religion. The sole Jews in the play, Shylock and his daughter Jessica, exist in a predominant Christian environment, and are often scorned for their religion. While Jessica converts under the pressure of marrying her Christian sweetheart, Lorenzo, Shylock remains faithful to Judaism all throughout the play, until he is forced to convert at the end, at cost of his life and all he holds dear.

A moneylender who charges excessive interest for the sums he doles out; Shylock is portrayed as an esurient, avaricious swindler who only seeks glee in cheating material goods out of others. Next to him, Bassanio is displayed as a God-loving, honest Christian, always truthful and kind, a true paragon of virtue. Although in modern literature, characters are given complexity, and reasons as to why they’re evil, Shylock is portrayed here as a flat-out, two dimensional villain, the one who destroys and hunts without a valid rationale to. He’s given no backstory, no milieu, no pure motives, and is thus a paper man living a lackluster, paper life.

There could be a few causes behind this. The time period in which Sherlock wrote ‘The Merchant of Venice’, which is specified as between 1596 and 1598, Christian was the reigning religion, and from the age of four, boys were sent to a petite ecole, roughly translating to ‘small school’, where they were taught the reinforcements of the Church’s teaching. Christianity was the parallel around which everyone waxed and waned, the nucleus of everyone’s atoms. Anyone of a different religion was an enemy; anyone following a different God was a foe. The implementations of racism and prejudice invariably wore themselves into Shakespeare’s writing. Pain, when exposed to long enough, can be acclimatized to- so can be archaic thoughts and mindsets. This is evident in Merchant of Venice. Shakespeare, while unsurpassed in literary matters, was not immune to inherited racism, and that shone through in the play.

Another of the causes might be the fact that Jews have faced oppression since the start of time. Something especially true in the Nazi era, anti-semitism is still dominant today.

All in all, racism and prejudice is an age-long matter, handed down from generation to generation, both in life and in literature, and in Merchant of Venice, it is expressed just the way it should be, expressive, clear, but only really there if you squint.