The Merchant of Venice is a play both about love and hate. Shakespeare illustrates the theme of hate most prominently through the prejudices of both Christians and Jews and their behaviour towards one another. The theme of love is shown amongst the Christians, in the love of friendship and marital love. The themes are emphasised in the settings of the play, Belmont symbolising love and Venice symbolising hate. As well as this the immorality of various characters can be seen in their motives for love and hate.
The entire play is centred around racial prejudices between Christians and Jews and their hate for one another. In The Merchant of Venice Shylock, the Jew, is characterised as the scapegoat, just as the Jewish have been throughout history. Shylock’s prejudice and dislike for the Christians is largely based on their mistreatment of him:
“Signior Antonio, many a time and oft in the Rialto you have rated me about my moneys and my usences: still have I 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.”
Shylock feels the wrath of an unequal society and is frustrated by it:
“Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? Fed with the same food, hurt with the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as a Christian is?” (Shylock- 3,1,54-60)
... courts of Venice; the Christian community expressing a certain divide and prejudice towards Shylock and the Jewish minority. This ‘rejection’ of the Jews is ... creatures, to human beings with the emotional capacity to feel love and hate. Othello is no longer a ‘black ram’ held up ... delivers death unto his daughter. Othello begins to doubt Desdemona’s love and honour due to the fact that he has ...
Shylock’s hatred for the Christians is what causes him to pursue his revenge on Antonio. This action is very significant as Shylock’s business is usance and in his pursuit for revenge he turns down six-times the amount of money owed to him. Antonio’s prejudice and loathing for Shylock is equally as strong. He shows no remorse or regret for any past wrongs he has done to Shylock or any other Jew:
“I am as like to call thee so again, to spit on the again, to spurn thee too.”
Antonio is the symbol of racism in society and he openly exhibits it. He is not phased in the least after Shylock’s downfall. Shakespeare displays the repugnant effects of hatefulness in The Merchant of Venice.
Shakespeare demonstrates love in The Merchant of Venice amongst the Christians. He also distinguishes between the love of friendship and marital love. In Act 4, Shakespeare implies that Bassanio and Gratiano’s love for their friend Antonio is greater than that for their wives. Both men broke vows that they had with their wives because of Antonio:
“Antonio, I am married to a wife which is as dear to me as life itself; but life itself, my wife, and all the world, are not with me esteem’d above thy life: I would lose all, ay, sacrifice them all, here to this devil, to deliver you.”
True love seems to be demonstrated in Jessica and Lorenzo’s relationship. Jessica is willing to give up her previous life, even if she wasn’t altogether happy, to marry Lorenzo:
“I shall be saved by my husband; he hath made me a Christian.”
The Merchant of Venice is set in Italy in Venice and Belmont, representing the two worlds of the play. Shakespeare uses these two settings to emphasise the themes of love and hate. Love is centred around Belmont, a tranquil paradise to which lovers can escape, and hate around Venice, a hectic place which exploits and corrupts. This can clearly be seen when we look at where various events relating to love and hate in the play take place. All prejudicial activity takes place in Venice, including the trial. This is also the only place where Jews are found (Jessica becomes a Christian when she moves to Belmont).
... a citizen of Venice, Shylock becomes a Christian, ^... that, for his favour, he presently become a Christian^ The final act opens at Belmont. Music sounds ... the Venetian laws accepted the inhumane bond between Shylock and Antonio which stated that Antonio will get a pound of flesh cut off ... to be very hurt and offended by his lack of love, faith and honour towards her by saying: ^If you had ...
The Christian couples reside in Belmont, and there is rarely any talk of racial prejudice here. Belmont is where the Christians retreat to after their victory over Shylock in Venice. The surroundings complement the events that are taking place in both Venice and Belmont.
The characters’ attitudes towards love and hate give us an insight into their deeper natures. Shylock, for example, has more love for money than for his own daughter:
“I would me daughter were dead at my foot, and the jewels in her ear! Would she were hearsed at my foot, and the ducats in her coffin!”
And even so he proved that he would rather see a Christian die than be payed a six hundred percent profit:
“If every ducat in six thousand ducats were in six parts, and every part a ducat, I would not draw them. I would have my bond.”
Jessica’s attitude towards love and hate also suggests her deeper character. It is suggested that the only member of her family alive is her father and she goes to great lengths to be free of him and run away:
“Marry, you may partly hope that your father got you not, that you are not the Jew’s daughter.”
Bassanio’s motives for marrying Portia can be justly questioned. It is possible that, like Shylock, Bassanio is only interested in money which would imply that Bassanio dose not really love Portia at all and is only interested in her for her wealth:
“In Belmont is a lady richly left, and she is fair, and, fairer than that word, of wondrous virtues: sometimes from her eyes I did receive fair speechless messages: her name is Portia; nothing undervalu’d to Cato’s daughter, Brutus’ Portia; nor is the world ignorant of her worth, for the four winds blow in from every coast renowned suitors.”
The Merchant of Venice is a play both about love and hate. This can be seen through the Jewish and Christian prejudices, the relationships between the characters and the two settings for the play, Belmont and Venice. Shakespeare often incorporated the themes of love and hate in his plays, either as the main plot, or a sub plot as such in The Merchant of Venice. Love and Hate are the backbone of the main plot, collectively they hold the story together.
Auden, W. H. "Brothers and Others."The Dyer's Hand" and Other Essays. New York: Random House, 1948. In a casual but seminal essay on the play, Auden calls The Merchant of Venice one of Shakespeare's "Unpleasant Plays." The presence of Antonio and Shylock disrupts the unambiguous fairy-tale world of romantic comedy, reminding us that the utopian qualities of Belmont are illusory: "in the real ...