How is Merchant of Venice a play of contrasts?
In the play 'The Merchant of Venice' by William Shakespeare, the author shows us a contrast of cultures and another contrast of religions. Religion and culture are of course, very interwoven. 'The quality of mercy' which 'is not strain'd' was always held up to be a key attribute of Christianity - and Shylock of course was not a Christian but belonged to a persecuted minority - the Jewish community. In Christianity, this quality is deemed to be shown from the top down, with Jesus Christ himself showing mercy even up to the last minute on the cross of his execution at Calvary. He tells the criminal that he will join him in paradise. However, he shows mercy and forgivenesss to this sinner for a reason - and that reason is that the sinner showed penitence and was sorry. The contrast with Judaism and Shylock is that the latter felt he had nothing to be sorry about, and therefore did not try to save himself by showing penitence. The old biblical sayiong 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth' was meted out to him.
Shakespeare relies mainly upon his two setting in Merchant of Venice to demonstrate the conflict and contrast between Romanticism and Pragmatism. Belmont is the fairy-tale island, isolated from the hum-drum of every day business dealings. It includes riddles and marriage and playfulness. In contrast, Venice exemplifies the tedious business dealings in life and the fulfillment of the letter of the law (in the Duke's court). In Venice, daughters betray their fathers; minorities are insulted; revenge is sought; and "justice" is enacted (without genuine mercy). In Belmont, loose ends are tied up, new marriages move past early misunderstandings, and the truth is revealed.
Another contrast is, of course, the clash between Shylock's worldview and the Venetians. Shakespeare uses this conflict to shed light on the inequality of justice for certain groups of people versus the elite.