The Merchant of Venice
The Merchant of Venice Theme of Race
In The Merchant of Venice, Judaism and Christianity aren't just religions – they're constructed as racial (and even national) identities as well. In its portrayal of a bloodthirsty Jewish moneylender, the play famously dramatizes 16th century racial stereotypes that are deeply unsettling, especially for modern audiences. While there's no doubt the play depicts anti-Semitism, literary critics are divided over the question of whether or not the play itself endorses racism.
Questions About Race
- Characters like Antonio are unapologetically racist, but does the play endorse anti-Semitism?
- Is Shylock ever portrayed as a character we should sympathize with?
- Why doesn't Portia like the Prince of Morocco?
- Why does Jessica flee her father's house?
Chew on This
By portraying Shylock as a sympathetic figure and victim of racism, Shakespeare's play criticizes bigotry and intolerance.
The Merchant of Venice perpetuates anti-Semitism by portraying Shylock as a stereotypical (according to 16th century standards) bloodthirsty Jewish moneylender seeking a pound of flesh from a Christian character.
The Merchant of Venice neither endorses nor critiques anti-Semitism; it merely portrays anti-Semitism on the stage.