The Lack Of Equality In Society In Shakespeare’s “The Merchant Of Venice” And In Hansberry’s “A Raisin In The Sun”

July 16, 2021 by Essay Writer

Shylock in Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice” and Walter in Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun” both share the same lack of equality in society. “The Merchant of Venice” in 16th century in Venice and “A Raisin in the Sun” in 1950’s in the slums of Chicago’s Southside. Each of them is oppressed by the rest of the world due to their inhabitability of “fitting in” because of their race in case of Walter Lee and in case of Shylock due to his religion and beliefs. This essay is going to focus on comparing both of these characters using perspectives such as humanity and equality.

In the 16th century, more specifically in “The merchant of Venice” Judaism and Christianity were not simply religions, they were what racial identities were based on and also what constructed the character of a person. As we can see in this play, Shylock is seen as the villain, but on the contrary he should be seen as the victim most of the times. He suffers in his deepest self from frustration and anger due to his previous experiences with racism and alienation from the Christians (the ones there are considered to be the pure citizens, the ones that god sent to rule), while the Jewish are seen and taken in the same consideration as dogs “You call me misbeliever, cutthroat dog,/And spet upon my Jewish gabardine […]’Fair sir, you spet on me on Wednesday last,/You spurned me such a day; another time You called me dog”. He is an outsider who is not given the same rights as the other citizens (Christians) in Venice, so he searches for shelter and comfort in the law, which in his mind is supposed to be wright and equal to everyone regardless of any type of religion, look or social stature. Antonio’s and the other’s hate on Shylock is due to his religion but also to his work as a money-lender. But after all throughout the play both Antonio and his friends, who mocked and spet on the Jew, go search him for money.

In the duration of the play, we are allowed to notice Shylock’s journey, not only physically but most of all mentally. This journey brings him from being a character we can sympathize and feel pity for as Shakespeare gives him speeches “Hath not a Jew eyes? hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? Fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed?” to a character where revenge and frustration appear to be the only feelings allowed by him to feel and then in the end to a character we can relate to because he went from having a family, money and well-being to a miserable lonely man without anything left thanks to a desire for revenge.

While in “A raisin in the sun” we see the rough life of the younger family, specifically in Walter Lee, the main character in this play, who goes through a lot of misfortunes during the play. This character is a dreamer and that is above all the reason why this family tends to suffer so much, because he chooses to pursue his dreams in the wrong times with the wrong people.

“A raisin in the sun” portraits the life of normal, working-class African-Americans as part of a broader movement. This play starts with the family waiting for something big to happen, the arrival of a check that is supposed to change the way they are living, but what Walter wants with this money is not the well-being of his family but his own. We can see this as the action goes on and we see this character getting really mad at his family when they say the check doesn’t belong to him. What his mother decides to do later in the play is to buy a house for all of them (her dream is finally getting pursued), but what is not favourable at all is the racism that comes with this. The house this family is moving into is in a white neighbourhood where people don’t want to accept the fact that they must live with them. Why? Because they are colored people and as Mr. Lindner says “I want you to believe me when I tell you that race prejudice simply doesn’t enter into it. It is a matter of the people of Clybourne Park believing, rightly or wrongly, as I say, that for the happiness of all concerned that our Negro families are happier when they live in their own communities.” But Mr. Lindner is not the only person that is racist to this family. We also see it in George (Beneatha’s “friend”) even though he is as a matter of fact also a colored person he thinks he is superior to them because he is rich, so he mocks Beneatha’s heritage as if he didn’t have it also “Let’s face it, baby, your heritage is nothing but a bunch of raggedy-assed spirituals and some grass huts!”. But the question is, how can Walter get mad at the people who are racist to him when he himself is racist with his own people? “Why? You want to know why? ‘Cause we all tied up in a race of people that don’t know how to do nothing but moan, pray and have babies!”.

Comparing both characters, both Shylock and Walter have problems dealing with their inner self, as it’s seen throughout the plays. This is due to their lack of understanding to the world itself, and by this I mean they don’t understand how they are supposed to interact with situations where racism is present because they both feel without a doubt insecure. It is not a lie that they have reasons to feel insecure or outside society because of their race or religion but both plays show the incapability of forgiveness or of moving on after the succeeded events.

Humanity and equality are two different but very similar themes in both plays. In different periods of history both authors tried to address their audience with subtle but at the same time direct important themes of racism and religion, which in case of Shakespeare’s time religion was a really present problem between Christianity and Judaism, overall because of the discrimination from the Christians. They believed that Jews should not be accepted into their society and also that they were inferior to them. Most of the times they were rated (criticized), as Shylock says in one of his famous monologues “Signor Antonio, many a time and oft/ In the Rialto you have rated me” because of their beliefs but also because of their interest in lending money to others (which was the only way they could be considered more than “dogs”). While in Hansberry’s case, the theme of racism came mostly from the colonial era but was also very present in the 1950’s in America, where, as in this play, black people had to live almost apart from the rest of society (white people). They had rights and conditions of living taken away from them as if they were almost not considered humans, which we also see in this play in the conversation between the Youngers and Mr. Lindner “I want you to believe me when I tell you that race prejudice simply doesn’t enter into it. It is a matter of the people of Clybourne Park believing, rightly or wrongly, as I say, that for the happiness of all concerned that our Negro families are happier when they live in their own communities”, where Mr Lindner implicitly says that they are not welcome in Clybourne Park because they are not White, so they could never live what is called “American Dream”, which is “the notion that the American social, economic, and political system makes success possible for every individual” (Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged, 12th Edition 2014. American Dream) because even if this “dream” is apparently achievable for everyone, society turns this idea down by killing them as it is referred in the play or simply by making the life of the black community a hell on heart “You mean you ain’t read ’bout them colored people that was bombed out their place out there?”.

Returning to these two characters, in “The Merchant of Venice” Shylock as it was already said shows itself to be an insecure and an “othered” citizen in society but does he gets what he wants? Does he achieve his deepest self-realization? He almost did, until Portia turns his own “mental game” against him. Shylock wanted above all revenge, from Antonio, from his daughter, from her daughter’s lover, from all the people that turned him down in his life, he inserts this anger in the treat that he has with Antonio, where almost was allowed to cut a pound of flesh from him, but then the spell turns on the sorcerer and he is left lonely with nothing but his pride “Nay, take my life and all; pardon not that:/ You take my house; you do take the prop/ That doth sustain my house; you take my life/ When you do take the means whereby I live”. While in “A Raisin in the sun” Walter also didn’t accomplish the things he wanted. He wanted to provide a good life for his family but only by accomplishing his dreams, so even if he in a way did end up doing something good for his family he was still mad about the money he lost but mostly for not having the “dream job” he wanted the whole time. It ended up being his mother who gave a well-being for the Youngers family.

In conclusion, both Walter Lee in “A raisin in the sun” and Shylock in “The merchant of Venice” portrait the life of a group of specific social class that were victims of the malfunction of some periods of time or some countries where their life turned into completely the opposite that both of these characters dreamed. Their “inner self” was broken due to unnecessary stereotypes that society created throughout the time as was said in this essay. It is also good to reinforce that people can be blind with hate and that doesn’t always help the people that surround them or themselves as in both this plays. The authors try to touch subjects that were and will always be a problem all around the world if not stopped soon, which makes this two plays timeless.

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