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The Merchant of Venice Race Quotes

How we cite our quotes: (Act.Scene.Line). Line numbers correspond to the Norton Shakespeare edition.

Quote #7

Hie thee, gentle Jew.
The Hebrew will turn Christian; he grows kind. (1.3.191-192)

Antonio's sarcasm is pretty blatant here—he cannot fathom the possibility that Shylock the Jew is just being "kind." We also notice Antonio's use of the word "gentle," a term that shows up quite a bit in this play.  For Antonio and many of the other characters, "gentle" means a few things: 1) considerate behavior, 2) aristocratic heritage, and 3) gentile (Christian).  In other words, Antonio is saying that Shylock will never be "gentle" (considerate or upper class) because he's not a Christian. 

Quote #8

Mislike me not for my complexion,
The shadowed livery of the burnished sun,
To whom I am a neighbor, and near bred.
Bring me the fairest creature northward born,
Where Phoebus' fire scarce thaws the icicles,
And let us make incision for your love
To prove whose blood is reddest, his or mine.
I tell thee, lady, this aspect of mine
Hath fear'd the valiant; by my love, I swear
The best regarded virgins of our clime
Have loved it too. I would not change this hue
Except to steal your thoughts, my gentle queen. (2.1.1-12)

It's interesting that an African Prince should have to apologize for his complexion to a woman who is lower in stature than he is. Even though Portia is disdainful of the prince, his graciousness is impressive. At the same time, however, the prince's speech stands out as being more formal and eloquent than the speech of other characters in the play, which makes him even more of an outsider.  

In fact, this reminds us of how Shylock's repetitious style of speech also differentiates him from the Christian characters. What's up with that?

Quote #9

Alack, what heinous sin is it in me
To be ashamed to be my father's child?
But though I am a daughter to his blood,
I am not to his manners. O Lorenzo,
If thou keep promise, I shall end this strife,
Become a Christian and thy loving wife. (2.3.16-21)

Jessica is ashamed to be her father's "child" because 1) Shylock is Jewish, which makes her Jewish, and 2) Shylock's has rude "manners" (read: he's not gentle or gentile). We also notice that, in Jessica's mind, marrying a gentile (a non-Jew) is synonymous with her own conversion from Jew to Christian. (This concept is from 1 Corinthians 7:14: "The unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband.")

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