The Role of Prejudice in "The Merchant of Venice"

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This paper discusses the subject of prejudice in the William Shakespeare

play, The Merchant of Venice.

I. Introduction

William Shakespeare's satirical comedy, The Merchant of Venice,

believed to have been written in 1596 was an examination of hatred and

greed. The premise deals with the antagonistic relationship between

Shylock, a Jewish money-lender and Antonio, the Christian merchant, who

is as generous as Shylock is greedy, particularly with his friend,

Bassanio. The two have cemented a history of personal insults, and

Shylock's loathing of Antonio intensifies when Antonio refuses to

collect interest on loans. Bassanio wishes to borrow 3,000 ducats from

Antonio so that he may journey to Belmont and ask the beautiful and

wealthy Portia to marry him. Antonio borrows the money from Shylock,

and knowing he will soon have several ships in port, agrees to part with

a pound of flesh if the loan is not repaid within three months.

Shylock's abhorrence of Antonio is further fueled by his daughter

Jessica's elopement with Lorenzo, another friend of Antonio's.

Meanwhile, at Belmont, Portia is being courted by Bassanio, and

wedding plans continue when, in accordance with her father's will,

Bassanio is asked to choose from three caskets -- one gold, one silver

and one lead. Bassanio correctly selects the lead casket that contains

Portia's picture. The couple's joy is short-lived, however, when

Bassanio receives a letter from Antonio, informing him of the loss of

his ships and of Shylock's determination to carry out the terms of the

loan. Bassanio and Portia marry, as do his friend, Gratiano and

Portia's maid, Nerissa.

The men return to Venice, but are unable to assist Antonio in

court. In desperation, Portia disguises herself as a lawyer and arrives

in Venice...