In The Merchant of Venice, how does Shakespeare present contrast in the play?

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durbanville eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There are many contrasts present in The Merchant of Venice. There is Shylock , the Jewish moneylender

a vengeful, greedy creditor trying to exact a pound of flesh,

and Antonio, a Christian who appears to extol the virues of mercy and compassion but who in fact can be self-serving and not Christian-like in his disdain for Shylock. The contradictory behavior compicates the way in which the  

characters display an impulse to categorize one another on the basis of religious and racial characteristics.

Then there is Portia and her problems with her looming marriage, forced upon her by her late father whom she feels she must obey, in keeping with filial loyalty. Yet, she turns out to be a strong character who will actually save the day for all concerned.

Bassonio is a conflicted persona and although he starts off wanting to marry Portia for her money, ultimately he comes to understand the value of honesty and true worth

Therefore, thou gaudy gold,
                                                                                                                Hard food for Midas, I will none of thee;

Justice and mercy are both admirable attributes but the contrast between them is never more obvious than in The Merchant of Venice. The Old Testament and therefore the belief of the Jews, holds justice as paramount whereas the New Testament with its forgiveness and compassion is indicative of Christianity. Both however are


It is something of a paradox then that

it is not through mercy that Antonio is freed but through the legal wrangling of Portia. 

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