In The Merchant of Venice, a main theme is prejudice and sterotypes. Where can this theme be identified?
This play certainly has ample evidence of the prejudice that existed between Jews and Christians at the time. Shakespeare makes clear that this prejudice is not all one-way. As much as Antonio hates Shylock because of his identity as a Jew, it is clear that Shylock hates Antonio likewise because he is a Christian, and because of his practise of lending money without charging interest, which makes his job as a usurer more difficult. Note how Shylock greets Antonio in an aside in Act I scene 3:
How like a fawning publican he looks!
I hate him for he is a Christian:
But more, for that in low simplicity
He lends out money gratis, and brings down
The rate of usance here with us in Venice.
This is just as prejudiced a view as Antonio's hatred of Jews, exhibited by the way he spat at Shylock in public. Shakespeare clearly presents two distinct groups of people in this play, Jews and Christians, and demonstrates the prejudice that is evident between both groups and the strereotypes that have been created and that are sustained by characters such as Antonio and Shylock. One of the interesting elements of the play for 21st century readers is the way that these stereotypes never actually seem to be broken, accept through the way in which Shylock's presentation as an evil man can be challenged through the way that Shakespeare arguably presents him in a somewhat sympathetic light.