Is your life worth more than mine?


Inspired by the movie “The Merchant of Venice” based on the homonymous Shakespearean play, which we have seen in class, today we are going to reflect on racism.

The word “racism” is founded on the premise that some human races are biologically and historically superior to other races. This idea is at the root of discrimination and persecution at the expense of the “inferior” race, to guarantee the 'purity' and the dominance of the 'superior race'. However, recent genetic studies have shown that differences among races are minimal, inferior to those among individuals of the same race, and above all human beings are intelligent. Mankind originated from a single stock that spread from Africa to the various continents, reinforcing the characteristics which best suited every environment and thus dividing humans beings into different types. It should be clear by now, but unfortunately it is not  because racism does exist, and in our area as well. Not everybody understands that "races" do not exist. Although we live in the twenty-first century, ignorance persists. In our opinion the only way to solve this problem is to learn to tolerate everyone, accept them for what they are regardless of their skin colour, culture and religion. In the film “The Merchant of Venice” we can see racism towards Jews, in particular against Shylock. Christians behave badly towards them and they make them do the same. In his soliloquy, Shylock, who has been continuously ill-treated by Antonio, decides not to have mercy on him, even if he eventually loses out. This makes it clear that racism cannot lead to anything good, but only to hatred and disdain.

“One is always someone's stranger. Learn to live together, this is the way to fight against racism.”

Written by Beatrice Barolo, Alice Carraro, Andrea Mazziotti, Silvia Trolese


Shakespeare's play « The Merchant of Venice » has racism as one of its main themes

In The Merchant of Venice we can see a clear picture of dehumanisation because of the way one character is treated and constantly humiliated. Shylock is shown sometimes as a manipulator and an angry character. Shylock is often abused by another protagonist, Antonio, who thinks that he is inferior and unpleasant due to his Jewish background. In the play we can see the discrimination which many of the characters are subjected to. Even if Antonio insults Shylock, the latter gives him money when he needs it.

Shakespeare seems to have wanted to show the worst prejudices of his century. Should the play be censored to avoid provocation or be staged to question society and the audience? Shylock can be shown as a man full of values and humanity. He represents a caricature of greed certainly but he makes us feel emotions when he talks about his condition. The other characters are not shown as examples either.

To place the conflict in its context, Antonio asks his worst enemy, Shylock, for money for his closest friend, Bassanio. He wants to seduce a young heiress Portia. Antonia promises to refund Shylock as soon as his boats arrive in Venice, he is very confident. Stories intertwine. 

It is totally normal that Shylock hates Antonio, he suffers from these racist remarks from Christians. He makes a poignant and touching statement on the Jewish condition in a Christian environment. But in the end Christianity triumphs and takes him off his religion. We talk a lot about clemency  to which even the Jews could not submit. To benefit from forgiveness, you have to know how to forgive. 

Differences in religious cultures between Jews and Christians are important especially when we talk about money. In the Bible, poverty is a symbol of purity, material goods are poorly seen. On the other hand,in the Jewish religion, money is more positive, it is a sign that you were chosen by God.

The play is smart because it does not allow caricatural simplifications which would oppose a cruel Jew to a good Christian.

Written by Alice Marchand, Hugo Geslin

Poster of the Merchant of Venice