ENLT 215 B
November 16, 2016
Religious Discrimination in The Merchant of Venice The Merchant of Venice is a play by William Shakespeare. The main plot involves a Jewish moneylender and his Christian debtor. Because of religious differences and discrimination, the story becomes violent and somewhat dark. Analyzing the tension between Jews and Christians in The Merchant of Venice reveals an important warning for modern society.
Characters and Plot Shylock is a Jewish moneylender. Jewish people during the period of the play are mistreated by the larger Christian community. Jews in Venice (and many other European cities) are forced to live in ghettos. They are locked in after dark, and have to distinguish …show more content…
(Antonio, Act I, Scene II, Lines 184-186)
Antonio instead signs an agreement with Shylock for the necessary funds. Shylock insists on a pound of flesh as collateral if the debt cannot be repaid. Assured this is a joke clause "in a merry sport" (Shylock, Act I, Scene III, Line 157), Antonio agrees to the arrangement, and Bassanio receives his money. Soon, however, Antonio receives word that his merchant-ship investments have all sunk, and he realizes he will not be able to repay Shylock the loan:
"...my ships have all miscarried, my creditors grow cruel, my estate is very low, my bond to the Jew is forfeit..."
(Letter from Antonio, Act III, Scene III, Lines 328-330)
Shylock, seeing his chance to exact revenge on Antonio (and indirectly on the Christian establishment) for poor treatment of Jews, takes Antonio to court for his pound of flesh. Antonio is only saved when Portia (disguised as a man, a common theme in many of Shakespeare 's comedies) argues that Shylock is not entitled to a single drop of blood. This makes the agreement impossible to fulfill, and Shylock is left to grovel for mercy. He is not sentenced to death, but has all his earthly possessions stripped away. He is also forced to convert to …show more content…
Jews in Europe were denied freedoms even up through the first half of the 20th century. Much of the hostility toward Jews stemmed from several unfortunate opinions. The first was that Christianity fulfills the old covenant of Israel with a new covenant, and Jews are obsolete and should convert. The second opinion was that the Jews were responsible for the death of Jesus. Both of these opinions are untrue1, but were widely held in Christian Europe. A third (and most crucial in Merchant) anti-Jewish sentiment involved money. Christians were not allowed to charge interest on loans to fellow Christians. Jews did not have this restriction, and found themselves filling the demand for money-lenders and bankers. However, this presented an opportunity for more discrimination. Charging interest sparked the attitude that Jews were greedy. The result of these anti-semitic attitudes was a sometimes violent push for Jews to convert to Christianity, and a shunning of Jews into their own isolated society. Shylock mentions an example of ill-treatment by Christians early in the