Religious Prejudice in The Merchant of Venice

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      Religious prejudices prevail in The Merchant of Venice. From the opening act to the courtroom scene toward the end of this play, debilitating, prejudicial insults are thrown from one character to another. Shylock is the target for many of these hurtful remarks, but he demonstrates that he is also capable of delivering them. Prejudice makes a person see a group of people as stereotypical stick figures, contaminated with negative characteristics. These impressions are based merely on the fact that a group of people may look different, embrace different principles, or act in different manners A prejudiced person does not consider that individuals in that group might differ from one another. Nor does he or she allow that there is a common core that runs through all human beings - a place where everyone can relate to one another.

      For example, Shylock confesses at the beginning of this play that he hates Antonio because Antonio is a Christian. Shylock does this in spite of the fact that he makes a magnificent speech in act 3, scene 1, in which he attempts to make Christians understand how hurtful prejudice can be. Shylock states that just because he is a Jew does not mean that he is not human. Conversely, Antonio spits on, mocks, and rails against Shylock, because Shylock is a Jew. When Antonio suspects that Shylock is doing something good, such as when Shylock insists on not charging interest on his loan to Antonio, Antonio tells Bassanio, "This Hebrew will turn Christian: he grows kind, as if only Christians practice charity. Also, in the courtroom scene, Antonio states that trying to change Shylock's "Jewish heart" would be as impossible as changing nature.

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