Shakespeare Themes - Prejudice
Racial prejudice is a strong theme in Merchant of Venice, but modern readers will probably not see it in quite the same way as Shakespeare's audience. Shylock the moneylender is a Jew and he is incensed at the way the Christians of Venice treat him. He gets the opportunity for revenge when Antonio makes a foolish deal to give him a pound of flesh if a loan can't be repaid on time. The Christians resent him for his vengeful attitude, and there's also the common anti-Semitism, partly due to resentment of moneylending for interest.
Where did Shakespeare stand? He gives Shylock a moving speech that any minority could use as a defense against discrimination:
"I am a Jew.
Hath not a Jew eyes? hath not a Jew hands, organs,
dimensions, senses, affections, passions? fed with
the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject
to the same diseases, healed by the same means,
warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as
a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed?
if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison
us, do we not die? and if you wrong us, shall we not
revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will
resemble you in that. If a Jew wrong a Christian,
what is his humility? Revenge. If a Christian
wrong a Jew, what should his sufferance be by
Christian example? Why, revenge. The villany you teach me, I will execute, and it
shall go hard but I will better the instruction".

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