Prejudice and Intolerance
The Venetians in The Merchant of Venice almost uniformly express extreme intolerance of Shylock and the other Jews in Venice. In fact, the exclusion of these "others" seems to be a fundamental part of the social bonds that cement the Venetian Christians together. How otherwise would the ridiculous clown Launcelot ingratiate himself with the suave Bassanio? Or why would the sensitive Antonio tolerate someone as crass as Gratiano? It is possible to argue…read analysis of Prejudice and Intolerance
Human and Animal
Closely related to the theme of prejudice and intolerance is the theme of humanity—and the inhumanity of which various characters accuse one another. In insulting and abusing Shylock, the Venetians frequently denigrate him as an animal or devil. Shylock, in turn, seeks to reduce his debtor Antonio to the status of an animal whose body can be bought or sold. In the courtroom scene, he justifies his purchasing of a pound of Antonio's flesh…read analysis of Human and Animal
Greed vs. Generosity
The primary grievance that Antonio has against Shylock is that he is greedy—for charging interest to those who borrow money from him when they are in need. The Venetians implicitly contrast Shylock's greed with the generosity that they show one another. For instance, Antonio is willing to place his whole "purse and person" at Bassanio's disposal and regularly saves other Christians from having to pay interest to Shylock by paying off their debts for them.
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Reading and Interpretation
Instances of reading and interpretation occur many times in The Merchant of Venice. An early scene in which Shylock and Antonio bicker over the meaning of Biblical scripture shows that the all-important distinction between Jews and Christians basically boils down to interpretive differences—different ways of reading and understanding a shared heritage of texts.
The play also stages "scenes of interpretation"—in which the act of reading becomes a dramatic event. The first major instance, connected…read analysis of Reading and Interpretation
Love and Friendship
In connection with mercy and generosity, The Merchant of Venice also explores love and friendship between its characters. The central romantic relationship of the play is that between Bassanio and Portia. Their marriage is paralleled by several others: the elopement of Shylock's daughter, Jessica, with the Christian, Lorenzo; and the marriage of Portia's servant, Nerissa, to Bassanio's companion, Gratiano. In addition, numerous critics have suggested that the strongest friendship in…read analysis of Love and Friendship