What examples are there of prejudice in The Merchant of Venice ?

Expert Answers

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

A main example of prejudice is Antonio's anti-Semitism. He may borrow money from the Jewish Shylock, but he dislikes the moneylender simply because he is Jewish.

Shylock has not forgotten how Antonio treated him. When Antonio shows up for a loan, Shylock reminds him that he spat [voided his rheum] on his beard and kicked him as if he were a dog. He asks Antonio why a "dog" should have money to lend:

You, that did void your rheum upon my beard
And foot me as you spurn a stranger cur
Over your threshold! Moneys is your suit.
What should I say to you? Should I not say,
“Hath a dog money? Is it possible
A cur can lend three thousand ducats?”
Antonio's cruel and contemptuous behavior has raised Shylock's ire. Rather than apologize when he asks for money, Antonio instead adds fuel to the fire when he asserts he will likely continue the abusive behavior, saying:
I am as like to call thee so again,
To spet on thee again, to spurn thee too.
If thou wilt lend this money, lend it not
As to thy friends, for when did friendship take
A breed for barren metal of his friend?
But lend it rather to thine enemy . . .
It is clear that Antonio brings his problems on himself, goading Shylock with his hateful speech to demand a pound of flesh and to revel in the idea of cutting it out of Antonio's heart when his enemy can't repay the loan.
Shylock also avows prejudice against Christians and is heartsick when his daughter, Jessica, elopes with a one.
Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

I think the best example of prejudice in Shakespeare's "The Merchant of Venice" is the prejudice that exists between Christians and Jews.  Antonio is a Christian and Shylock is a Jew.  The two men cannot stand each other, and it is not because they have different ideas about how business should be done.  They do not like each other because of their individual religions.  

"How like a fawning publican he looks!

I hate him for he is a Christian..."

The play also contains racial prejudices as well.  Portia is an in demand, wealthy, attractive woman, so much so that her father has potential suitors take a test.  Portia herself is very discriminatory toward some of these men.  For example: 

"If he have the condition of a saint and the complexion of a devil, I had rather 
he should shrive me than wive me. "

In other words, Portia is saying that it doesn't matter how good and nice and honorable the Prince of Morocco is.  She will not consider him as a potential husband because he is black. She equates dark skin with the devil.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

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