the merchant of venice themes

  • Created by: fayjolly
  • Created on: 08-07-18 18:04

Race and religion

  • The Venetian people had an extreme uniform intolerance of the Jewish race. They were often referred to as the 'others' and the hatred semented a bond between the venetian Christians.
  • This may shadow Shakespeares views of Christians as expressing through Shylock's pitiful end. - contrasting to this idea Shakepeare created an emotion of sympathy towards Shylock when Shylock gave a speech to Antonio about the way he is treated:"You call me a misbeliever,cutthroat dog / you spat on me on wednesday last, you spurned me such a day; another time, you called me dog; and for these courtesies ill lend you thus much money ?" - leaves a possibility to the chance Shakespeare was critizing the prejudice view.
  • Shylock explains that he learned hatred from Christians , from years of abuse.
  • When Portia is informed of the prince of Morrocco she says - "the complexion of a devil".
  • Lancelot towards his master " Certainly the jew is very decil incarnal..." - even a Jews servant has no respect for him.
  • This view wouldn't have been suprising to an audience of shakespeares time.
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Race and religion - theme of humanity

human or animal

  • The theme of humanity is shown throughout the play.
  • On regular occassions Shylock is continually compared to something less of a human - Venetians frequently denigrate him as a animal or devil .
  • This view explains the reasoning behind Shylocks longing for a pound of Antonio's flesh - it shows that cruelty of treating someone in a similar way to animal, ultimately presenting the audience with a moral that people with a different ethnic backgrounds should be treated with total equality.
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  • The Duke and Portia both express that to present mercy rahter than revenge is the best way forward for Shylock.
  • Portia presents the christian idea that you should "turn the other cheek" rather than revenge the exact person (from old testament) . Shylocks view is completely different -   " an eye for and eye , a tooth for a tooth" a concept dervived from the new testament.
  • The venetian law states Shylock can be killed for plotting against a Venetian and wealth confiscated. The Duke grants his life and to keep half of his wealth but he is forced to become a christian - is this fair?
  • "An inhuman wretch,/ incapable of pity , void and epmty / From any dram of mercy. " - With this attitude do you think Shylock will get a fair trial.
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  • Shylock on the other hand is determind to get revenge on Antonio. Even when offered money his hatred and need for revenge are paramount. - "My deed upon my head! I crave the law, the penatly and forfeit of my bond."

  • Shylock thinks Christian views on revenge are hypocritical - " If a Jew wrong a Christian, what is his humility? Revenge. If a Christian wrong a Jew , what should his sufferance be by Christian examplr? Why , revenge!'
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  • Christian and Jews hate eachother in all areas of society - " I am a Jew if i serve the Jew any longer" (Lancelot about Shylock )- Says this in a way that being a Jew is the worst thing you can think of.
  • When jessica escapes with Lorenzo , Gratiano pays her the complement of calling her " a gentile and no jew".
  • This hatred fuels Shylock and Antonio's personal fued - " Ancient grudge".
  • Shylock's hatred for Antonio causes him to seek revenge rather than be merciful.

Which proves to be stronger, love or hate? Do you think that the play provides an answer? (It is worth considering that some productions miss out the final act and finish the play at the end of the trial. How would that alter what the play shows us about love and hate?)

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Appearance and reality

There are many instances in the play when all is not quite as it seems. We, the audience, are aware of the disguises and deceptions with which some of the characters are involved.

  • Lancelot deceives his blind father, pretending that he is not his son.
  • Jessica dresses up as a boy in order to elope with Lorenzo.
  • Portia and Nerissa disguise themselves as Balthazar and his clerk in order to attend the trial.
  • Portia and Nerissa then develop the deceit so that they can test their husbands.

It is clear that the deceptions create a moral not to judge by apperances.Do you think that it is fair to deceive others, even for 'honourable' motives?Are there any characters in the play who, in your opinion, take deception too far?

We could also question the 'appearance' of the Venetians - they call themselves Christians (and so ought to follow the teachings of the New Testament, loving their neighbours), but the reality is that they own slaves and persecute the Jews.

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