Theme of Outcasts in Merchant Of Venice


Individuals from the Venetian society cannot express their true selves without feeling ashamed of their identity. This theme has existed throughout centuries, as Shakespeare's era is no different. Us readers observe the roles of outcasts through many characters in Shakespeare’s play “The Merchant Of Venice ''. Shakespeare provides the role of outcasts in Elizabethan society as someone who has been treated as worthless or powerless. The theme of being an outcast is evident throughout the lack of acceptance of different religious beliefs, gender discrimination, and lack of acceptance of different forms of love. This is perceived as this society's citizens are unable to reveal their genuine selves without feeling embarrassed about who they are.

Within Shakespeare's play, we observe that the masculine figures in this society have domineering authority over women. The quotation “Besides, the lottery of my destiny/ Bars me the right of voluntary choosing. But if my father had not scanted me/And hedged me by his wit to yield myself/ His wife who wins me by that means I told you,” (1.2.15-19) was expressed by Portia as she explained her disappointment to her best friend Nerissa. Portia was robbed of the chance to choose the man she will marry, as Portia's deceased father arranged a lottery in which potential partners may select one of three caskets in the attempt to obtain Portia's hand in marriage. Her father’s male authority over her future exemplifies how powerless women were during the Shakespeare era, as women could not even have the means to control who she would want to spend the rest of her life with, representing women as the outcasts in their Venetian society. Therefore, we can see that the masculine figures in this society had an overbearing influence over women throughout Shakespeare's play.

Shylock is referred to as a "Jew" throughout the play, as he is seen as useless since he does not comply with the bulk of Venice's Christian society's religious beliefs. The quotation “Fair sir, you spet on me on Wednesday last; /You spurned me such a day; another time/ You called me ’dog'—and for these courtesies/ I’ll lend you thus much moneys?” (1.3.123-128) that Shylock cries out as Antonio begs him for a favour, portrays the sentiments that the Jews in their society constantly feels, representing Jews as the outcasts. As Shylock confronts Antonio about being called a dog and about the disrespectful actions the Christians regularly put Jews through, he hopes to get across that Jews should not be treated horribly just because they have different viewpoints when it comes to their religious beliefs. The Christians who dislike Shylock only because of his religious beliefs do not call him by his real name and instead, simply refer to him only by his choice of faith. Not only this, but the Christians in this society intentionally try their hardest to make Jews feel worthless and powerless. This society makes a deliberate effort to make Jews feel miserable and weak since he does not share the majority of Venice's Christian culture's religious values, making Shylock and the other Jews feel like outcasts.

Antonio adored Bassanio so deeply that he would give his life to see him happy, with the one condition that Bassanio be at his side when he died. The quotation “Tell her the process of Antonio’s end./ Say how I loved you. Speak me fair in death./ And when the tale is told, bid her be judge/ Whether Bassanio had not once a love/ Repent but you that you shall lose your friend,/ And he repents not that he pays your debt./ For if the Jew do cut but deep enough,/ I’ll pay it presently with all my heart.” (4.1.265-272) preached by Antonio as he thought it would be his last time seeing his ‘person’ exemplifies his true feelings towards Bassanio. The type of love Antonio held for Bassanio would not be tolerated in their society, which would lead to Antonio being an outcast due to his viewpoints of love. In this scene, Antonio urges Bassanio not to be sad for him and tells him that to show his love, he is willing to give his life. The goodbye speech said by Antonio, as well as Bassanio's reaction to it, demonstrates that the connection between these two men is as deep as it gets. It also demonstrates Antonio's great love for Bassanio, as his sole request was for Bassanio to be by his side when he died. The bond between Antonio and Bassanio is greater than friendship but is constantly being masked with companionship to avoid being an outcast.

We can observe throughout Shakespeare's play that people in this society are unable to express their genuine selves without feeling embarrassed of their identities. Shakespeare illustrates the outcast in Elizabethan culture as someone who has been viewed as worthless or impotent. We observe how male characters oppress women and deny them power,  certain individuals are labelled as outsiders due to their religious views, and other's scared to express their true sentiments in fear of being ridiculed by their culture and community.

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