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The Merchant of Venice

The Merchant of Venice

Race Theme

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

  1. Characters like Antonio are unapologetically racist, but does the play endorse anti-Semitism? 
  2. Is Shylock ever portrayed as a character we should sympathize with?
  3. Why doesn't Portia like the Prince of Morocco?
  4. Why does Jessica flee her father's house? 

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

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.

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