Racism has been an issue all throughout history and still is an issue during present day. The Merchant of Venice is a play written by William Shakespeare and is supposedly a ‘comedy’ about a money lender who seeks revenge on a merchant over an unpaid loan. All throughout the play there are many themes that are recognised and one of these major themes is racism. Some examples of how racism is displayed in the play are, the different views on Christians and Jews when it comes to money and wealth, how skin colour affects how people view you and how even though people are of different race and religion they are still all human.
In The Merchant of Venice, Judaism and Christianity are not only religions but are viewed as racial (and even national) identities also. In the play, Shakespeare makes a strong stereotype of how money is viewed when in the possession of Jews and Christians. Not just in the play but throughout history Christians are viewed as being generous and careless with their money, unlike Jews who have accusations made about being blood-thirsty money lenders who care more about money than people and their social relations with them. This deception is still made in current times with Jews seen to be money handlers. Even though the stereotype of money being of upmost importance to them isn’t very common today, some people still see them to be this way. The same stereotype goes for Christians being generous and putting people first however, some people think that Christians and churches are frauds and want people’s money for themselves. A new stereotype is the stereotype of the way Muslim people are viewed when it comes to money with some people believing that they want money to use for weapons so that they can use them against us however this has only began to rise with the increase of Muslim terrorists. Stereotypes of money no matter what religion are still common today with some new stereotypes and some that have passed.
In The Merchant of Venice, skin colour (known as ‘colourism’ a term coined by Alice walker in 1982) is another thing that people are prejudice towards. In the play people jump to assumptions and have strong views on people of different skin colour, particularly white people looking down on those of darker complexion. A prime example of prejudice towards those of different skin colour is when Portia says “If I could bid the fifth welcome with so good heart as I can bid the other four farewell, I should be glad of his approach; if he have the condition of a saint and the complexion of a devil, I had rather he should shrive me than wive me” (ACT 1, SCENE 2). In this scene Portia is saying she would never want to marry the Prince of Morocco, even if he were a saint, because of his dark skin colour that she says is “of the devil”. In the Elizabethan times (Shakespeare’s day), people of dark complexion were discriminated against and were seen to be associated with the devil and evil. As a result of this discrimination they were treated poorly with white people being of greater significance to them and also resulted in them having no rights and being seen as outcasts and evil. It’s only been in the past one hundred years that this discrimination has begun to change and ease. Today prejudice and discrimination is still carried out towards those of darker complexion by few with some still believing that they are more superior to the darker skinned people, however many people support equality for all no matter what skin colour, race, sexuality or religion.
The Merchant of Venice is filled with prejudice acts and stereotypes towards those of different race. Though the play is filled with these negative examples, one of the strongest scenes and most famous passages from the play is when Shylock says “He hath disgraced me, and hindered me half a million;