Compare and contrast Jews and Christians in "The Merchant of Venice."  

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Both the Jewish and Christian characters are portrayed as hostile and antagonistic towards each other in the play. Shylock reveals that he is a bigot by criticizing Antonio's Christian beliefs and practices. He refuses to eat and pray with Antonio and demonstrates his vengeful personality by refusing to accept ...

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Both the Jewish and Christian characters are portrayed as hostile and antagonistic towards each other in the play. Shylock reveals that he is a bigot by criticizing Antonio's Christian beliefs and practices. He refuses to eat and pray with Antonio and demonstrates his vengeful personality by refusing to accept Bassanio's payment of six thousand ducats so that he can kill Antonio. Similarly, Antonio is also hostile towards Shylock and is unapologetic about publicly ridiculing him. Antonio treats Shylock with contempt and even spits on him. Both Jews and Christians are depicted as intolerant and self-righteous, and both are proud of their religious identity.

Despite the many similarities that exist between the two religious groups in the play, Christians occupy a position of power while Jewish citizens suffer from ethnic discrimination. Christians enjoy many privileges and have the freedom to choose whatever occupation they desire while the Jewish citizens are forced to become usurers because they are banned from other areas of employment. Christians are also portrayed as benevolent, loyal, and gracious while Shylock is depicted as greedy and materialistic. Despite Shylock's overt hatred for Christians, he is not a hypocrite like Antonio and the other Christians in the play. While Antonio and Bassanio behave amicably towards other Christians, they demonstrate their hypocrisy by discriminating against Jewish characters.

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The play follows traditional stereotypes that pit Christians against Jews. Jews, represented primarily by Shylock (as his daughter, Jessica, wants to convert to Christianity), are money hungry and driven by a sense of justice. Christians like Antonio put the demands friendship ahead of money. Christians, also, at least according to Portia while disguised as lawyer, place mercy above justice.

However, Shakespeare being Shakespeare, makes moves that undermine a simple black and white stereotype of "Jews bad" and "Christians good." For example, he shows why Shylock would feel such hatred for Antonio: after all, Antonio has insulted him, hit him, publicly humiliated him, and then have the nerve come to him for a loan. Shylock is tired of being abused for his religious faith and for trying to make a living in one of the few ways open to Jews in Venice. Therefore, we can feel sympathy for Shylock while at the same time agreeing that he goes too far in his merciless demand of a pound of flesh from Antonio's heart.

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Christians

1. Hold positions of power

2. Well-respected in Venetian society

3. Do not practice usury (lending money with interest)

4. Hypocritical

5. Biased

Jews

1. Have to work for everything they have (Shylock is not rich--like Christians--because of the family into which he is born.  He is a shrewd businessman).

2. Receive no respect (Antonio and others spit on Jews, call them names, and force them to wear red hats.  Servants of Jews feel that they can freely and openly insult their masters, something they would never do in the employment of Christians).

3.  Many rely upon usury to make a living because so many of their other rights have been taken away from them.  Ironically, even though Christians are against practicing usury, they are the Jews' customers, thus keeping the usury alive.

4.  Instead of demonstrating hypocrisy, Shylock is quite open with his intentions and cannot help but identify the Christians' hypocrisy.

5.  Biased also against all Christians (Shylock is dismayed that his daughter has run off with a Christian; he assumes that all Christians are like Antonio, even though Portia--disguised as Balthazar--offers him a way out of his situation). 

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