How is the theme of prejudice explored through the characters of Launcelot, the Prince of Morocco, and Shylock in The Merchant of Venice?

Launcelot, Shylock's servant, expresses anti-semitic feelings towards his employer. Both the Prince of Morocco, who has experienced racism, and Shylock, who has experienced anti-semitism, assert their full humanity in the face of prejudice.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Launcelot Gobbo, a comic figure, is a servant to Shylock. He shares in the common anti-Semitism of the time period, calling Shylock "a kind of devil" for being Jewish. His better angel knows he should not leave Shylock's service, but his bad angel wants to go to work for Bassanio. He also helps Lorenzo and Jessica elope; anti-Semitism tips him away from sympathy for Shylock.

The Prince of Morocco is a Black man who feels he needs to deal directly with his skin color, a recognition of racism in Venice. He wants to marry Portia, but realizes that she may not prefer him because of his skin tone. Therefore, he says to her:

Mislike me not for my complexion,
The shadow'd livery of the burnish'd sun,
To whom I am a neighbour and near bred.
Bring me the fairest creature northward born,
Where Phoebus' fire scarce thaws the icicles,
And let us make incision for your love,
To prove whose blood is reddest, his or mine.

Like Shylock, the Prince asserts that his blood is the same as a white person's and that he is just as good as the palest skinned man from a northern country. Portia, to her credit, assures him she does judge people on their appearances alone.

We learn more of Shylock than the other two characters. We hear Antonio insult him openly for being Jewish, and we are also privy to Shylock's rage at the way he is treated. He wishes for revenge, and we can understand his anger. He argues, too, that he as fully human as any Christian, stating:

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?

Shakespeare fully acknowledges the anti-Semitism and racism that exist in Renaissance culture and also allows his Black and Jewish characters a chance to express their humanity.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial