Stereotypes in “The Merchant of Venice”
“Dumb jocks! “, “Women don’t belong there, doing that!”, “He must be a criminal, just look at his clothes.” How often have we heard somebody mention these things, yet, how often have we said something similar? Our society is based on face values where we categorize people because of a few actions. All of the above statements are prejudicial notions used to define members of a social or an ethnic group, and are called stereotypes. Stereotypes are explored greatly in the Shakespeare play “The Merchant Of Venice”, as most of the main characters are looked upon with a stereotypical point of view. However Not all of the main characters are, some take a different perspective and are a completely different breed of character compared to the others. A good example of a stereotypical character in “The Merchant of Venice” would be Shylock. Shylock is a Jew, and in this time period, Jews where used mainly as loan officials. The stereotype that he is placed with is that of a Jew, or as it was seen back then. While the character Portia is a good example of a character that hasn’t been implemented with any stereotypes.
Some of the play’s characters have some stereotypical aspect about them. Antonio is the main character, and is affected by stereotypes. He is noble, rich, high class, dominant and couldn’t care less for the Jew and always wants to make a buck. This was the stereotype for a rich businessman, and this is how the audience views Antonio.
” You call me misbeliever, cut-throat dog,
And spit upon my Jewish gabardine,” (A1, S3, Ln103-104)
“… I thank my fortune for it,
?Upon the fortune of this present year:
Therefore my merchandise makes me not sad” (A1, S1, Ln41-45)
Here Antonio is expressing his sadness for his ships that are at see. He is sad because he is unsure if they will return bringing him his riches or if that they will sink on their mission. This is when the audience is first shown his greed and businessman like attitude. His nobility is shown well in the courtroom scene.
“For Herein Fortune shows herself more kind
Than is her custom: it is still her use
To let wretched man outlive his wealth” (A4, S1, Ln263-265)
Antonio is saying that it was fate’s choice to let him die here, and he has accepted that. This shows his nobility, as he is ready to accept defeat to the Jew and receive his punishment, instead of trying to wriggle out of it.
Another character that is also very stereotypical is Shylock, the villainous Jew. He is a man who is sought after only for a loan, as it was only Jews who could give loans and receive interest. Shylock’s character of cunning, evil and mischievous man was the stereotype of a Jew back then. This is how Shylock is portrayed through out the play.
” Fair sir, you spat on me Wednesday last,
You spurned me such a day, another time
You called me dog: and for these courtesies
I’ll lend you thus much monies.” (A1, S3, Ln118-121)
Many people would ask the question, why would someone in Shylock’s position want to give anything to a person who has treated them as badly as Antonio. However, under the interest free bond that Shylock has created with Antonio lies a need for revenge so great that Shylock will do anything to take the life of Antonio. This shows how cunning and mischievous he is as he then agrees and instead of paying interest, if Antonio is late, he will pay a pound of flesh.
” Expressed in the condition, let forfeit
Be nominated for an equal pound
Of you fair flesh, to be cut off and taken” (A1, S3, Ln141-143)
This again shows his cunning and corrupt character. Although both Antonio and Shylock and both stereotyped in the play, there are some characters that are not stereotyped. The best example of this is Portia. Back in Shakespeare’s time, the woman was stereotyped as being obedient they also never usually were expected to do anything socially of any real importance. And although Portia is partly a stereotyped character with the fact that she follows her father wishes in that the person she marries must pass the test of choosing the correct chest, she brakes this pattern of being stereotypical during the courtroom scene, where she dresses up as a man.
“Enter Portia [disguised as Doctor Balthazar, followed by officials]” (A4, S1, Ln162.5)
This is very unusual for a woman to dress up as a man, and so because of this we know that Portia doesn’t follow the stereotypes like Antonio and Shylock do. Jessica is another example of a character that doesn’t follow the stereotypes as Antonio and Shylock do. Jessica is the daughter of Shylock, we know from the first time we meet her that she doesn’t follow the stereotypes as she wants to elope with Lorenzo and she has stolen from her father.
“But love is blind, and lovers cannot see
The pretty follies that themselves commit” (A2, S6, Ln37-38)
Overall, there are some characters in the play that are portrayed as being stereotypes, while there are also some that are not. This balances out the play instead of having all stereotyped characters. So ‘The Merchant of Venice” does explore stereotypes to some extent with some of the characters while on the other hand as there are some characters that aren?t stereotyped then the idea that ‘The Merchant of Venice’ only has stereotyped characters validity decreases.