Religion and Anti-Semiticism in Shakespeare's "Merchant of Venice"


As I was reading this play, I have somehow discarded some parts of it because I noticed how this was mostly about Jews and Christians, how Christians are better than the Jews, or how Jews experience discrimination from almost the whole world. At this time of my life, I get exposed to different literary works that have anti-semitic elements and I just wonder why the Jews get so much hate around them. I just cannot see a “clear” reason why they have to be exterminated, discriminated, and hated so much because as far as I know, they haven’t committed a grave crime to the world; but they always play the role of victims in history. Of course, this kind of thing affects me, because I (as well as most of us) have been treated as an outcast and hated for no valid or deep reason. Plays like this only confirmed by belief that religion may be needed by some people to have something to believe in, or be guided in some way, but it is more useless, dangerous, and harmful that it is benefiting humankind. Religion was beneficial, maybe during the ancient times – but speaking of spirituality, I think the humankind is already ready to graduate from the “kindergarten” stage which is religion. We can break free from it if we want to, especially if it does more harm than good.

The “Merchant of Venice” definitely had funny elements in it, like the flawed suitors of Portia, the Gobbo father and son, and the disguises of Portia and Nerissa – but overall, the play was not very entertaining or amusing for me. Instead, I regard it as a kind of revolutionary work, a play that uses too much discrimination perhaps not for the sake of encouraging more anti-semiticism but to call for revolutionary action to stop the sufferings of the Jews. It was too much. And just like what Shylock said:

“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. If a Jew wrong a Christian, what is his humility? Revenge. If a Christian wrong a Jew, what would his sufferance be by Christian example? Why, revenge.”

However, even if Shylock was permitted by Shakespeare to say that in the play, he was still in a very inferior position, and it was portrayed that his only way to salvation was to be a Christian, just like what Jessica, his daughter, said: “I shall be saved by my husband; he hath made me a Christian.” Religious dominations are very evident in the play that it somehow overshadowed other interesting aspects of it like how Portia’s challenge to her suitors was very Grimm’s fairy tale-ish and so on. If I am permitted to be very honest here, this is very maddening. I do not like the idea that the proliferation of most religions in the world was fueled by the resistance to hell and punishment. It is not religion that can save us but our own selves. Religion has its good aspects, but it is mostly used to control people, historically speaking. Bad people can have a religion and still be bad; and good people can choose to not have a religion and still be good. And from what I see, religion, as portrayed in this play, divides people instead of unites them. Every single one of us, even a small bug or a blade of grass, came from one Source. We all are essentially the same – only that each of us chose a different physical expression in this world. The separation that we see or feel from each other is basically just an illusion. We are interconnected. Therefore, if what religion teaches us is to be in enmity with other people who do not share the same religion as us, then we are being told lies. Whether you be a Jew or a Christian, you have a soul and innate divinity within you as a result of coming from a divine source. 


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