The Themes of the Merchant of Venice

Essay by BBBastet April 2004

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The play Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare has two major themes running through its story. Even though it was written in the late 1500s these themes still have significance today.

The main characters of this play are Shylock, the Jew, who is a money lender charging interest to make living. Antonio is another character of this play and he is a fairly rich merchant. Antonio has a very good friend Bassanio, who wants to marry Portia, a wealthy woman who is Shakespeare's heroine.


At first, this play may seem to be anti-Semitic, but prejudice can be found on both sides. This theme mainly involves two characters of the play, Antonio and Shylock.

The character of Shylock seems to be the villain because he wants the pound of flesh of Antonio's, who seems to be a good Christian. But the story behind is much deeper and Shakespeare gives evidence that all is not as it seems.

At the beginning, Antonio expresses his hatred for Shylock but he doesn't give any reasons for this. Later, it can be seen that Shylock hasn't really done anything to harm Antonio and therefore Antonio's hatred is completely unfounded. Furthermore, Antonio knowingly drives down the interest rates by lending money without interest. This makes hard for Shylock to make living since he, as a Jew, cannot do anything else except lend money and charging interest. Also, Antonio spits on Shylock and kicks him, whenever he sees him. It is clear that Antonio's actions spring from pure prejudice and nothing else.

As for Shylock, it is obvious that Shylock has many reasons to hate Antonio. It is understandable then that Shylock seeks revenge when he wants the pound of Antonio's flesh, even though the revenge is fairly cruel.