A Comparison of the Battle for Equality in Shylock’s Monologue in The Merchant of Venice and the Black Lives Matter Movement

Though William Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice” is set in Renaissance Italy, and the worldwide adversity of antisemitism has declined over the decades, the message delivered through the plight of Shylock, the Jewish money lender of the tale, about discrimination and adversity, remain true even in modern society, as minorities, specifically African-Americans, fight for equal treatment and acceptance of their unique identities in society.

As Shylock tried to affirm his basic human rights to his Christian antagonists, who have “disgraced” him, “scorned [his] nation”, and “mocked at [his] gains”, all for the simple fact, as he claims, that he “[is] a Jew”, depriving him of his rights to carry out his work and his lifestyle and enjoy the fruits of his labor, mocking him for his religion and what he does to earn a living, reasoning that he, too is human, and does not deserve the discrimination and constant persecution and distrust he faces from living in a Christian society (Shakespeare 3.1.23).

Similarly, Alicia Garza, a founder of the modern Black Lives Matter movement, describes the social movement as being motivated by “the ways in which Black people are deprived of [their] basic human rights and dignity” by the modern establishment, ranging from racial profiling by law enforcement, to policies within municipal governments that disenfranchise African-Americans of certain rights, whether or not those laws were created with the intention to do so, as an act of “state violence” (Garza). Police forces frequently use lethal force on African-Americans in situations that typically call for less drastic measures. Prison inmates in modern America are predominantly made up of African-American men, and real-estate and zoning policies typically confine African- Americans living in urban environments to assume a state of living that many would consider unfavorable, imposed upon them by predominantly white authorities.

Even less recently, Martin Luther King, Jr., in his famous 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech, called on his followers to return to their southern states and “slums and ghettos” of their northern cities, to work towards changing the future for the next generation of black Americans (King). In this way, the persecution imposed upon Shylock by the non-Jewish citizens of Venice, being unfairly scorned and mocked simply for being the person who he is, and following the religion he was born into, though not as severe, is much like the situation in America today, where thousands upon millions of African-Americans are either killed, incarcerated, or forced to live in poverty by way of the ill-conceived preconceptions of white policymakers who profile African-Americans simply for the color of their skin and not for their character.

Shylock’s monologue, continuing to express his frustration with being ostracized for being Jewish, and wishing to convince the people of Venice that he, too, is capable of fighting back and standing up for himself, can also be directly related to today’s Black Lives Matter movement. Shylock, through Shakespeare’s writing, uses an analogy to compare Shylock’s situation to baiting a fish that will not provide much food, saying, “To bait a fish withal: if it will feed nothing else, it will feed my revenge,” to show both Shakespeare’s audience as well as the people of Venice that constant discrimination and hatred will do nothing more that strengthen one’s resolve to either get fair treatment or exact revenge upon those who wrong them.

This is similar to today’s events, as more and more young African American men are subject to “fatal police shootings” or given unfair prison sentences, the people of Black Lives Matter fight back, with “high profile protests at the University of Missouri and Yale University” and activists “publicly, and unapologetically, disrupting presidential candidates at events and campaign rallies”, showing that the voices of the oppressed black community cannot be silenced and will continue to rise up and fight for equal representation and fair treatment by their fellow members of society, similar to how Shylock threatens to continue to fight for his recognition as a human being regardless of his religion (Foran).

Shylock’s monologue in The Merchant of Venice, fighting for recognition as an equal member of society, and vowing to never give up the fight for such recognition, draws many parallels to today’s Black Lives Matter movement, in which the systematically oppressed African-American community continues to fight for its equal representation and fair treatment of society, just as Shylock in Shakespeare’s Venice did centuries ago.

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