One of the agreed upon characteristics of Literature is that it speaks of "universal truths"--or timeless truths--that remain relevant throughout human ages. Thus far, this universal, timeless characteristic has been true of The Merchant of Venice (though Eagleton speculates about a time when this may cease to be true). The central theme is one of the points in this play that is timeless: the antagonism of one group of people for another and the sense of superiority each group feels over the other. While the groups in The Merchant of Venice and Jew and Gentile, and while this particularly is relevant at the present hour in history, a more universal view can be taken that aptly applies this theme to the various groups of people at odds with each other across the face of the Earth today. Examples can be found in Afghanistan, Chechnya, Iraq, Tibet, Syria and other places.
[Aside] 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.
If I can catch him once upon the hip,
I will feed fat the ancient grudge I bear him.