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The Merchant of Venice in Light of Post-Colonialism

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This research aimed to identify play The Merchant of Venice in light of post-colonialism. As the post colonial theory deals with the questioning of racial identity, ethnicity and social structures likewise, the paper will investigate the existence of post- colonial elements within Shakespeare’s play written way before the development of the concept of colonizer and colonized.

A comprehensive investigation of William Shakespeare plays reveal the doctrine of societal construct which was new and common during 1600s. Shakespeare’s plays elucidate the streaks of post colonial elements and proclaim the emancipation emerging from the Renaissance period towards the colonial as well as post-colonial era. As Eurocentric humanism is deeply rooted in hegemonic project of Shakespeare’s literary incarnation likewise, racism inherent in his plays also dramatizes over sentimentalized recuperation of humanism for the liberal 21st century audience.

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Generally, Shakespeare’s plays carry a great influence on the reader or the audience to consider and later reconsider the already existent racial biasness. The later concept of Bhabha’s ideology of hybrid existence and ‘othering’ has already been subjectively depicted through Shakespeare’s characters. However, this concept of ‘other’ is often misinterpreted by the later writers specifically the post colonial writers. Besides this, there’s also a sense of superficial decoding often observed through Shakespearean plays such as the portrayal of Moor Othello as a naïve foreigner.

There is a sense of diversity often elaborated through Shakespeare’s writings as a playwright as well as the dramatist which enables the reader to dissect multiplicity of meanings and reinterpret his philosophy according to the contemporary times. However, the elasticity of universal meanings in his writings is what determines his profound existence in literature of all times. Shakespeare’s dramatic texts whether comedy or tragedy carry life of its own as that is perhaps the recognition of great or master art.

The term post-colonial ideally refers to the period of colonization and the later consequences followed by the European invasion. In light of English literature, post-colonialism is about the resistance and approach of people towards the former center of the empire. However, this theory is deeply embedded in terms of polishing and reinterpreting Shakespeare’s plays. According to Derek Walcott, Shakespeare is presented as a perpetrator of crimes against humanity.

According to W.E.B Du Bois, the double consciousness of the African Americans is an attempt to conceive the identity of people forged through the eyes of predominant white culture or supremacy (Du Bois). Besides this, in The Location of Culture Homi Bhabha has attempted to eliminate the whole concept of racial connotation and hybridity while ultimately erasing the impurity inherited from the thinking of 19th century. (Bhabha) Also, there’s a possibility of cultural exchange between the textuality of reciprocal flexible patterns suggesting the dichotomy of in-between-ness between the colonizer and the colonized subjects.

A Marxist philosopher Antonio Gramsci post-colonialism is viewed in light of distinction “borrowed from military, in order to represent any person or group of an inferior rank or station because of his race, class gender, ethnicity or religion. Furthermore, the critics have often coined the concept of in-betweenness in light of post-colonial conditions as the colonized nations ultimately become hybrids by adopting the culture and local values of their own and that of the invaders. However, the mixture of two identities leaves room for the third identity to develop and exist with blurring boundaries of both ends. Another salient feature of Bhabha’s ideological framework gives an insight into the concept of ‘mimicry’ to unsettle the artistic domination of western hegemony.

Moreover, critics’ remarks and their presented concepts coincide with the post colonial studies more particularly the context foreign to the post colonial era. Thus, by embarking on the post-colonial uprooted philosophies and theories, this research will attempt to depict the agency of diversified meanings, multiculturalism, European culture and norms, hybridity and globalized world view promulgating human behaviors and their psychological existence within a larger context of Shakespeare’s plays.

RESEARCH METHODOLOGY

The primary source of the research is Shakespeare’s play The Merchant of Venice. The textual context based analysis is qualitative in nature. Therefore, it analyses the theory of Post Colonialism in order to identify and deliberately justify the respective play in light of post- colonial critical theories. Besides this, the secondary sources of the research would entirely base on relevant critical essays and articles. Hence, the sources for most of the critical material would be consulted from online journals and articles.

DISCUSSION AND ANALYSIS

The Merchant of Venice is grounded on the base of racial ethos engraved within the plot of the play. Often the critics of post colonial studies dwell upon the construction of cultural issues and racial prolonging racial practices. Also according to the critics Shakespeare is at many times criticized for depicting the marginalized and subalterns through his plays.

In this play, the Jewish community is targeted as a subaltern by its significant representation of futile efforts of Jews in power. The depiction of Shylock as the prime figure of the Jewish community is marked with elimination from the hegemonic distinction from the power structure of the society he was living in both socially, politically and culturally. Shakespeare has portrayed the Jews in this plays as alienated figures in contrast to the Christian population. It is important to note that the play is endorsed with various other symbolic approaches that determine the overall conclusion of the play. Yet, the post colonial critics have regarded the playwright for adopting anti-Semitic strategy of employing his literary techniques.

The play Merchant of Venice generally revolves around the common themes of love, relationships, revenge and Christian and Jews tassel. The play is regarded as a tragicomedy in which the court trial on pound of flesh goes hand in hand with other incidents. In light of the radical view Shylock is regarded as the victim in the play. Merchant of Venice as the title suggests refer to the merchandising of wealth and dealings with the issue of money. All the plots in the play are streamlined through wealth as money becomes the universe for the characters.

We see that Shylock loves money even more than his daughter, Jessica. His obsession with money is abnormal. We may study his obsession with money through postcolonial perspectives. We know that Shylock is an alien in Venice. In the course of the play we see that he is treated by the Christian characters of the play, as a ‘racial other’. He is humiliated because of his Jewish religion. Shylock knows that the only way to get respect and recognition in his host country is by creating an identity for him. It seems that money in the only way through which he can make an identity for himself in Venetian society that is biased against the Jewish race.

Antonio becomes a guarantor on Bassanio’s behalf. Initially, Shylock hesitates in lending three thousand ducats to Bassanio, for which Antonio shall be bound as he fears that his money may not be repaid. He expresses doubt over Antonio’s capacity to repay.

He shows his trust in Antonio’s financial capacity. He says:

“ . . . The man is notwithstanding sufficient.

Three thousand ducats: I think I may take his bond.”

What is important here is Shylock’s fear of losing his principal sum due to the risks that are involved in navigational merchandise. Shylock fears that if he loses his money, his financial position in Venice will drastically deteriorate and it will result in an identity crisis for him.

On the other hand the wealth that Antonio earns through his business ventures is of great significance, if seen through postcolonial perspectives. It generates the power that he exerts over Shylock. We see, at the beginning of the play when Antonio’s financial condition is strong, the scale of power between him and Shylock, tilts towards him and in the middle of the play, when he collapses financially, the scale of power between him and Shylock clearly tilts towards Shylock. Thus, we see that money generates power, and power influences the lives of many characters in the play. Wealth happens to be perhaps the most significant aspect for colonial aspiration and desire. Therefore any study of a postcolonial nature cannot ignore a thematic presence in which wealth plays such a significant role.

Shylock’s claim for the ‘pound of flesh’ undoubtedly points out his lust and hunger for revenge. At the outset of the play, he claimed himself to be vengeful spirit provoked by hegemonic oppression by Venice. However, the irony lies in the fact that although Shylock is a Jew still Antonio went to him to borrow money knowing the fact he’s the ‘other’. Besides this, Shylock’s arrogance reveals an attitude of defiance comparable to that of post colonial subject trying to resist the colonizer’s hegemony. Venice, like any other colonizing power, cannot survive without the economic support of the colonized. Here, post colonial elements strike on the societal stature of Venice where the hybrid identity is notoriously utilized to run the finances of the state and marginalized otherwise.

Shakespeare’s dramatization of Shylock’s humanity deserves reader’s attention in first place. He clearly thrives on the contradictions which need to be taken into account held in balance in the reader’s memory of the play. The ideal depiction of post- colonialism in the play is beautifully presented through Shylock’s word with Salarino:

SALARINO: Why, I’m sure if he forfeit thou wilt not take his flesh. What’s that good for?

SHYLOCK: To bait fish withal; if it will feed nothing else, it will feed my revenge. He hath disgraced me, and hindered me half a million, laughed at my losses ,mocked at my gains, scorned my nation, thwarted my bargains, cooled my friends, heated mine enemies—and what’s his reason? I am a Jew. 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? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that.

Indirectly, Shylock affirms that his ruthless behavior constitutes a reflection of Venice’s own rigidity, a notion calling to mind. According to Bhabha’s theory of mimicry and Bois’s idea of double consciousness, the character of Shylock resembles the Christian subject only to threaten him. However, such accusation of anti Semitism is very strongly attached to the play. If the Jew is not perfect nor is the Christian yet the distinction that is made between the two is primarily on basis of colonization. Therefore, even the playwright has explored the underlying constraints of a hegemonic society that is comparable to the modern European Empirical cultures at large.

Apart from this, Portia’s disguised appearance in the final scene of the court with the purpose to plead Antonio’s case again gives an insight into the power and importance of colonizer’s powers. As she declared that Shylock can only obtain the pound of flesh on the condition of not shedding a single drop of Christian blood. Here, the frailty of the colonized subject is confronted with the hegemony. Venice reasserts its domination on the alienated Other by confiscating all of his wealth is indeed the tragedy for the Jew. Although he’s the villain but the reader or the audience feels pity for him. Also, Portia’s role in the play reaffirms to the playwright’s perception towards the racist stance. As the justice of Venice leads to the injustice for the colonized depicts how evidently post-colonialism dwells upon the subjects.

CONCLUSION

To conclude it could be perceived that The Merchant of Venice depicts the instability of human relationships in all spheres of life. Shakespeare beautifully captures the pretty follies of the people dealing with life itself by raising questions on conflicts between good and evil. By characterizing the human heart, regardless of ethnic distinctions the idea of the colonizer as well as the colonized is dramatically presented by Shakespeare with an open invitation to the reader to interpret multiplicity of out of the divinity of his majestic writing.       

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