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Essay about The Roles of Portia and Shylock in The Merchant of Venice

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Stereotypes for every different religion, ethnicity, culture, and gender exist among the minds of the human race. These typecasts have ruled this world for as long as there has been diversity among people. In Shakespeare’s comedic tragedy, The Merchant of Venice, one prejudice is very central to the theme. The play is dominantly set in Venice, one of the most liberal cities of the Renaissance era. In this place and time period, anti-Semitism is very much in force. The Jewish people are discriminated against and treated terribly by the Christians living in Venice. Shylock, a wealthy Jew, is mercilessly spurned many times by men like Antonio, a Venetian merchant. In contrast to this blind hatred is the longing and lust associated with Portia, the rich heiress of Belmont. Although she is a wealthy Christian, she is a woman at a time when they held little power and possessed very few rights. In Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, the author uses the characterization of Portia and Shylock in order to illustrate that despite apparent differences including religion, morals, and reputation, the limited rights of women in this time likened them to the status of the Jews.
In this time period, religion is a major element in the level of respect that one receives. The Jewish people are disrespected to the point where they are spit on in the streets and called names that they generally do not deserve. Shylock is a victim of extreme discrimination and hatred by the Christian people of Venice, especially Antonio and his dear friend, Bassanio. Shylock is hated simply because he is in the minority as a Jew, not because he has ever specifically done anything to cause a Christian to seek revenge against him. Shylock angrily proclaims this injust...


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...to be weaker and less intelligent than the men who enforce these stereotypes. Prejudice has always existed in many different forms and it will probably never cease to exist.



Works Cited

Monsarrat, Gilles. "Shylock and Mercy." Cahiers Elisabéthains 67 (Spring 2005): 1-13. Rpt. in Shakespearean Criticism. Ed. Michelle Lee. Vol. 107. Detroit: Gale, 2007. Literature Resource Center. Web. 7 Feb. 2010.


Shakespeare, William. Merchant of Venice (Folger Shakespeare Library). New York: Washington Square, 1992. Print.


"The Merchant of Venice." Shakespearean Criticism. Ed. Michelle Lee. Vol. 97. Detroit: Gale, 2006. Literature Resource Center. Web. 7 Feb. 2010.


Wheeler, Thomas. "The Merchant of Venice: Overview." Reference Guide to English Literature. Ed. D. L. Kirkpatrick. 2nd ed. Chicago: St. James Press, 1991. Literature Resource Center. Web. 7 Feb. 2010.


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