How does The Merchant of Venice relate to contemporary society in terms of prejudice?

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William Shakespeare wrote The Merchant of Venice more than 400 years ago, but the prejudice shown by the characters is still present in the world today.

The play reflects the prejudice against Jews at the time. At first glance, Shakespeare appears to share this prejudice because of his characterization of...

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William Shakespeare wrote The Merchant of Venice more than 400 years ago, but the prejudice shown by the characters is still present in the world today.

The play reflects the prejudice against Jews at the time. At first glance, Shakespeare appears to share this prejudice because of his characterization of his antagonist, the Jewish moneylender Shylock, who insists on collecting a pound of flesh from Antonio when Antonio can’t pay back the money he has borrowed. Shylock is portrayed as greedy and murderous. The protagonists, whose side we are supposed to be on, insult him throughout the play. In the end, he is forced to convert to Christianity.

However, Shakespeare does allow his villain some humanity and gives him an opportunity to plead his case, such as in Shylock’s following lines from act 3, scene 1:

Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, sense, 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.

In this passage, Shylock is saying Jews are fully human and feel the same emotions as Christians, including a desire for revenge when wronged.

Although prejudice against Jews and other minority groups isn’t as widespread now as it was in Shakespeare’s day, it still exists. In fact, hate crimes against Jews, African Americans, members of the LGBQT community, and others have been on the rise in recent years. Even those who are generally considered good people, like Antonio in The Merchant of Venice, can be guilty of othering those who are not like them.

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