Reinforcing the Dominant Discourse in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice

Behnam Mirzababazadeh Fomeshi


Controversy has surrounded The Merchant of Venice. Although some critics believe the play is not anti-Semitic, the present study shows that Shakespeare could not go against the current of Elizabethan anti-Semitism. The play reinforced the dominant discourses and stereotypes working against the Jews. Few Shakespearean characters are more hotly debated than Shylock, the Jewish usurer in The Merchant. Although he has a relatively small part, this multifaceted and influential character governs the play and his multidimensional nature complicates the work significantly. The play depicts him as a cruel, crafty and wicked Jew just as Elizabethan Christians would demand. The playwright takes the stereotype character presented to him and makes it more complex, but he leaves its anti-Semitic qualities untouched. The Merchant of Venice represents and reinforces the dominant discourses of law, religion and nationality that support the Christians and work against the Jews. As a comedy, it made the audience identify with the winners of the trial scene, the Christians. Therefore, nothing remains of the resisting voices and what is heard more often and more powerfully is the dominant discourse of the time voiced by the winners of the play. Shakespeare made a clear distinction between ‘self’ and ‘other’, did whatever at his disposal to defeat ‘the others’ of the play, deprived them of genuine identity and form a homogenised community where no resisting voice could be heard. 



Full Text:



Abrams, M. H. and Harpham, G. G. (2009). A Glossary of Literary Terms. Boston: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.

Bamber, L. (1982). Comic Women, Tragic Men: A Study of Gender and Genre in Shakespeare. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Bloom, H. (1998). Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human. New York: Riverhead Books.

Boyce, C. (2005). Critical Companion to William Shakespeare: a Literary Reference to his Life and Work. New York: Facts On File, Inc.

Charney, M. (2000). Shakespeare on Love and Lust. New York: Columbia University Press.

Ching, F. T. H. and Termizi, A. A. (2012). Roycean Loyalty in William Shakespeare’s Timon of Athens. GEMA Online™ Journal of Language Studies. Vol. 12, 343-358.

Cohen, D. (1990). Shylock and the Idea of the Jew. In Derek Cohen and Deborah Heller (Eds.), Jewish Presences in English Literature (pp. 25-39). Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen's University Press.

Creaser, J. (2004). Forms of confusion. In Alexander Leggatt (Ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Shakespearean Comedy (pp. 81-101). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Dobson, M. and Wells, S. (2001). The Oxford Companion to Shakespeare. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Girard, R. (1980). To Entrap The Wisest. In Edward Said (Ed.), Literature and Society: Selected Papers from the English Institute (pp. 100–19). Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Grebanier, B. (1962). The Truth about Shylock. New York: Random House.

Gross, K. (2006). Shylock is Shakespeare. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Haverkamp, A. (2011). Shakespearean Genealogies of Power: A Whispering of Nothing in Hamlet, Richard II, Julius Caesar, Macbeth, The Merchant of Venice, and The Winter’s Tale. New York: Routledge.

Hinely, J. L. (1980). Priorities in The Merchant of Venice. Studies in English Literature 1500-1900. Vol. 20, 217-239.

Kitch, A. (2009). Shylock’s Sacred Nation. In Harold Bloom (Ed.), William Shakespeare: Comedies (pp. 191-215). New York: Infobase Publishing.

Lings, M. (1966). Preface to Shakespeare in the light of Sacred Art. London: George Allen and Unwin ltd.

Mahood, M. M. (2003). Introduction. In M. M. Mahood (Ed.), The Merchant of Venice (pp. 1-65). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Miller, A. (2004). Matters of state. In Alexander Leggatt (Ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Shakespearean Comedy (pp. 198-214). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Mills, S. (1997). Discourse. London: Routledge.

Padley, Steve. (2006). Key Concepts in Contemporary Literature. New York: Palgrave.

Shakespeare, W. (2003). The Merchant of Venice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Shapiro, J. (1996). Shakespeare and the Jews. New York: Columbia University Press.

Stewart, S. (2010). Shakespeare and philosophy. New York: Routledge.

Sutherland, J. and Watts, C. (2000). Henry V, War Criminal? and Other Shakespeare Puzzles. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Tovey, B. (1981). The Golden Casket: An Interpretation of The Merchant of Venice. In John Alvis and Thomas G. (Eds.), Shakespeare as a Political Thinker (pp. 215–38). West Durham: Carolina Academic Press.

Tyson, L. (2006). New Historical and Critical Approach. In Critical Theory Today (pp. 281-315). New York: Routledge.

Wynne-Davies, M. (2003). Rubbing at Whitewash: Intolerance in The Merchant of Venice. In Richard Dutton and Howard J. E. (Eds.), A Companion to Shakespeare’s Works (pp. 358-375). Malden: Blackwell.

Yusof, N. M. (2009). Re-inventing the Self: Constructions of Identity in Malaysian Blogosphere. 3L: The Southeast Asian Journal of English Language Studies. Vol. 15, 125-141.


  • There are currently no refbacks.




eISSN : 2550-2247

ISSN : 0128-5157