The Merchant of Venice

The Merchant of Venice


William Shakespeare

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Prejudice and Intolerance Theme Analysis

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Themes and Colors
Prejudice and Intolerance Theme Icon
Human and Animal Theme Icon
Law, Mercy, and Revenge Theme Icon
Greed vs. Generosity Theme Icon
Reading and Interpretation Theme Icon
Love and Friendship Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Merchant of Venice, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Prejudice and Intolerance Theme Icon

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 that Shakespeare himself shares his characters' certainty that the Jews are naturally malicious and inferior to Christians because of Shylock's ultimate refusal to show any mercy at all and, as a result, his pitiful end.

Yet there are also reasons to think that Shakespeare may be subtly criticizing the prejudices of his characters. Shylock's fury comes not from some malicious "Jewishness" but as a result of years of abuse. For example, though he is criticized by Antonio for practicing usury (charging interest on borrowed money) Jews were actually barred from most other professions. In other words, the Christians basically forced Shylock to work in a profession that the Christians then condemned as immoral. Shylock insists that he "learned" his hatred from the Christians, and it is Shylock alone who argues that all of the characters are the same, in terms of biology and under the law. Viewed this way, The Merchant of Venice offers a critique of the same prejudices that it seemingly endorses.

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Prejudice and Intolerance ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Prejudice and Intolerance appears in each scene of The Merchant of Venice. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Prejudice and Intolerance Quotes in The Merchant of Venice

Below you will find the important quotes in The Merchant of Venice related to the theme of Prejudice and Intolerance.
Act 1, scene 3 Quotes
The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose.
Related Characters: Antonio (speaker), Shylock
Related Literary Devices:
Page Number: 1.3.107
Explanation and Analysis:
Many a time and oft
In the Rialto you have rated me
About my moneys and my usances:
Still I have borne it with a patient shrug,
For sufferance is the badge of all our tribe.
You call me misbeliever, cut-throat dog,
And spit upon my Jewish gaberdine,
And all for use of that which is mine own.
Related Characters: Shylock (speaker), Antonio
Related Literary Devices:
Page Number: 1.3.116-123
Explanation and Analysis:
Let the forfeit
Be nominated for an equal pound
Of your fair flesh, to be cut off and taken
In what part of your body pleaseth me.
Related Characters: Shylock (speaker), Antonio
Page Number: 1.3.160-163
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 2, scene 1 Quotes
Mislike me not for my complexion,
The shadow'd livery of the burnish'd sun.
Related Characters: Prince of Morocco (speaker), Portia
Page Number: 2.1.1-2
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 3, scene 1 Quotes
If it will feed nothing else, it will feed my revenge.
Related Characters: Shylock (speaker), Antonio
Page Number: 3.1.52-53
Explanation and Analysis:
I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? Fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that.
Related Characters: Shylock (speaker)
Related Literary Devices:
Page Number: 3.1.57-67
Explanation and Analysis:
The villainy you teach me I will execute, and it shall go hard, but I will better the instruction.
Related Characters: Shylock (speaker)
Page Number: 3.1.70-72
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 4, scene 1 Quotes
Which is the merchant here, and which the Jew?
Related Characters: Portia (speaker), Shylock, Antonio
Page Number: 4.1.176
Explanation and Analysis:
Nay, take my life and all; pardon not that:
You take my house when you do take the prop
That doth sustain my house; you take my life
When you do take the means whereby I live.
Related Characters: Shylock (speaker)
Page Number: 4.1.390-393
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 5, scene 1 Quotes
The man that hath no music in himself,
Nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds,
Is fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils;
The motions of his spirit are dull as night,
And his affections dark as Erebus.
Let no such man be trusted.
Related Characters: Lorenzo (speaker)
Page Number: 5.1.92-97
Explanation and Analysis: