Themes in the Merchant of Venice

The Cyclical Nature of Hatred and Vengeance By Darina Gaievska Love and hatred, happiness and misery, excitement and lethargy – all of these emotions are inherited to the human nature. Hatred fits in among one of the strongest human feelings; it is a seed that engenders vengeance. In the Shakespeare’s play, The Merchant of Venice, these two inextricably bound terms are portrayed unequivocally. There are three main reasons why hatred was such a focal ingredient to the play: the Anti-Semitism, the unacceptability of usury and the personal altercations between the focal characters
First and foremost, the tensions between the play’s protagonist and antagonist take place primarily due to the cultural notion of Anti-Semitism. In spite of Venice being the multicultural and hence multi-religious trade city, the discrimination of the Jewish people was yet apprehensible. Throughout The Merchant of Venice Antonio keeps referring to Shylock as “The Jew”, a term that was so derogatory at the time. Although there isn’t much use of direct anti-Semitic slurs, the enmity towards the subculture still lurked in the passages of the play.
When Shylock slyly alluded to Jacob from Genesis, justifying his practice of usury, Antonio responded dismissively, saying that “the devil can cite Scripture for his purpose”. By calling Shylock “the devil” due to Shylock’s faith. In the merchant’s eyes, Jews were traitors, who deceived the Christ. Although Shylock shows his awareness of the Christian religion, Antonio does not respect him more; arguing that in spite of the knowledge he possesses “The Jew” is nevertheless a disbeliever.

The second reason due to which hatred skulks throughout the play is the un-acceptance of usury. During the Elizabethan era, Jews were not allowed to have any mercantile business, making usury, the practice of lending money on interest, the only source of profit to them. Antonio proves his negative attitude towards usury by lending money with no interest. Shylock, on the other hand, feels indignant of Antonio’s actions: “He lends out money gratis and brings down The rate of usance here with us in Venice. Their different views on lending nurture the characters’ animosity and foreshadow the conflict that arises later in the play. Last but not least, hatred is presented in a play in both the ambiguous way and the personal one. It is quite clear that the great tensions between “The Jew” and the Merchant are the focal point of the entire plot. Antonio’s disrespectful actions towards Shylock are incited by his anti-Semitic ideology. Needless to say, those actions are the main reason for Shylocks hatred, so strong and unceasing, towards his offender.
It almost seems that if Antonio was inflicting his enemy’s vengeance knowingly, continuing to practice his disrespectful behavior. Shylock justifies his thirst for revenge in act three: “The villainy you teach me I will execute, and it shall go hard but I will better the instruction”. “The Jew” argues that if Christians (specifically Antonio) treat him as if he were “a dog” hence showing that they are hypocritical when contradicting the concept of mercy, which is so deeply enshrined in their religion.
He blames the Christians for “teaching” him cruelty, and even promises to excel his masters. To sum up, the recurring hatred is a cycle that comes out of the culture’s prejudices. It is one of the main themes in the play. Hatred and animosity, caused by the anti-Semitism, unacceptability of usury and disrespect, are the inciters of the conflict between Shylock and Antonio. Without them, the play would be dull and boring, because emotions are the ones to spice up the play, making the interaction between characters more fervid.

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