Mercantilism And Prejudice In The Merchant Of Venice

Through effective storytelling, texts highlight individual and collective human experiences for responders to perceive the world in a new lens and address aberration. The responders are urged to evaluate their beliefs and consequently arrive at new conclusions through narratives that explore the disputes that stem from prejudices and stereotyping. Shakespeare’s play, The Merchant of Venice denotes perceptions of stereotypes and prejudices to invite individuals to have a point of view on the world and deviation is surfaced. The composer urged the responders to empathise with the individuals’ experience of the ‘other’ and lure the audience to form new perspectives to appreciate the perils of these individuals. In his play, Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare raises questions about the stereotypical attitudes and prejudices of the Elizabethan society that has led to conflicts within religious communities. Within our contemporary context, these questions still remain relevant as modern communities have an ongoing struggle of the universality of prejudice. 

Shylock is referred to as ‘the devil’ and the simile “like a villain with a smiling cheek” expounds the commonly held assumption that the Jews are villainous and vengeful. Shakespeare reinforces the proposal of the hostility in the Elizabethan society due to the xenophobic approach. Shylock is the anomalous product of the so called Christian values of acceptance and reinforcing Shakespeare’s audience to see the world differently. It is the Christian values of evaluating their own worth by faulty standards of living which drivers people like Shylock to make a living through usury. The inconsistent effect is, Shylock is the way he is because of the Christians, as summed up by the metaphor, “I am a dog, beware my fangs.” 

The Anti-Semitism vibes are seen throughout the play as Shylock is stripped of his identity and made to embrace Christianity leading him not only to material ruin but also spiritual destruction. The villainy of Jews was a familiar idea to Shakespeare’s audience but instead Shakespeare’s antagonist represents the innate questions that the playwright makes his audience to think upon. The Anti-Semitic undertones are evident in the biased representations of Antonio and Shylock both money lenders, but the Jew is cast as the “cutthroat dogs.” The moral blindness within the Elizabethan society is one of the main questions Shakespeare encourages his audience to assess and thus questions remain universally valid as society has always been in partisan. The audience is confronted with its own obliqueness and its left to find its own answer. Shakespeare proposes the Christian values of approval and lures the audience to perceive the enigma differently. Shakespeare awakens discussion of the Christian values of affirmation and allows his audience to perceive their own viewpoints. 

Through highlighting the role of wealth in debasing human behaviours and relationships, texts Highlight individual and collective human perspectives for respondents seeing the world in a new lens within the human condition. Shakespeare examines the increase in wealth within a Mercantilist society and subsequently projects the resulting loss of human dignity and values. It examines the nature of the character of Antonio as a fair and kid merchant and yet also an ignorant and bigoted man who represents Elizabethan England's racially motivated fables. The alliterative asyndeton in 'my purse, my person, my extremist means' creates a dramatic effect by building tension within the sentence, illuminating the responder the commercialism of Antonio's commercialism as he 'purchases' his friendship with Bassanio. 

The monetisation of human relationships is further enunciated through the repetitive alliterative use of 'My daughter, O my ducats, O my daughter! […] O my Christian ducats!' denouncing Shylock as father as he grieves for his loss of wealth rather than his only living family. In addition, the rise of Mercantilism in Elizabethan England, through trade and money lending, created further business opportunities for English and Jews, further causing rivalry and competition between the two ' classes ' of citizens. The consequences of a racially motivated society is evident as Shylock angrily declares that “the forfeit be nominated for an equal pound of [Antonio’s] fair flesh, to be cut off”. The alliterative and juxtaposing use of ‘forfeit’ and ‘fair flesh’ underlines the perversion of human compassion to become corrupted by mercantilism, elucidating the material greed and corruption of Shylock as he monetizes the innocence of flesh to justify his vengeance against Antonio. But here, through Shylock's protagonist antagonism, Shakespeare appeals to the audience's pathos as he expresses and represents an almost satirical interpretation of the prevailing view; that Jewish money lenders in the Elizabethan age were guilty of usury and blood libel. Therefore, the corruption in human relationship is largely attributed to the riches and greed created by a Mercantilist culture, often motivated by racial prejudices. Every individual perceives the world through a different pair of eyes. This results in countless worldviews and interpretations of reality. 

Shakespeare in Merchant of Venice, tries to influence the readers to create negative opinions of the Jews, but he raises questions about the history of Anti-Semitism, thus leading us to develop our own opinion. Additionally, Shakespeare notes the contradictions in human behaviour severely impacted by the mercantile society, which allows us to perceive our own opinions on the society.   

16 August 2021
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