How do the characters in Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice treat one another? How does this apply to an important theme?    

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tinicraw eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One major lesson to be learned from reading Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice is "what goes around comes around." Antonio has belittled Shylock publicly many times in the past. Because of this public slander, Shylock holds a grudge against Antonio. Add to this rivalry the fact that Antonio is Christian and Shylock is Jewish and the foundation for a perfect conflict is in place. Other characters in the play join sides based on friendship and familial ties, as well as on religion. Many say that this is a racist play, but it is better labeled as anti-Semitic than racist since both sides of the conflict are Caucasian.  Although the play suggests that it was Antonio who started the back-biting, it is Shylock who winds up going from victim to predator and back to victim again; thus, reaping the worst of the consequences under the plot conflict. In is interesting to note that Portia is the only one who shows professional respect to both sides as she plays the young doctor/lawyer. Having been recently married to Bassanio, Portia could have easily swayed the law earlier in Act IV to go in favor of Antonio, but she didn't. Portia gives Shylock every opportunity to negotiate the contract outside of the consequences of the law and treats him with respect (by not calling him names like the others do) through the whole process. It is clear that the play ends in favor of Christians rather than for Jews, though, and that sends another distinct message from Shakespeare as to his religious preferences. Nevertheless, the lesson is the same that if a person does not forgive others, then the worst can befall him/her in the end.