It's the same as You and I
It's the same as You and I
Zi Yan Zhang
Year 12, Our Lady of Mercy College
“In a country that's examining its conscience about the treatment of asylum seekers and the stigmatisation of the Muslim community as terrorists, what does Shakespeare have to say to us?” quoted from QandA show back in September 2016, which marked the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare. Society tends to scapegoat the other, blaming marginalised groups for all kinds of social ills when the problems have a much deeper and complicated root cause. Shakespeare's great literature, The Merchant of Venice drew on the strong anti-Semitic stereotypes that prevailed at the time, this work of art continues to speak to us as a contemporary, post-9/11 audience. Discrimination continues to be an important concern in the 21st century, the ugly legacy of the War on Terror can be seen in modern day Islamophobia and the rise of anti-immigrant politicians in western countries. Perhaps, on one level, Merchant of Venice is a play about interpretation. Though it has caused “real harm... to the Jews for some four centuries now” wrote literary critic Harold Bloom, although Shakespeare used a distinctly Venetian society to portray discriminatory attitudes, the universality of otherness allows the play to resonate with us as a contemporary audience. From Shakespeare, today our actions are challenged by a single question, why do we view certain groups of people as the other?
Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice is a classic example of how the majority of society is stigmatised as “the other”. Even in a multicultural post 9/11 society we can observe this in the rhetoric used by politicians on both sides of the political spectrum; refugees are constantly portrayed as lazy and undeserving of help while immigrants are portrayed as taking what is rightfully 'ours'. Shakespeare's Merchant demonstrates a clear, overt form of racism; contemporary audiences are horrified by the Venetians' treatment of Shylock yet fail to realise that modern day racism is in many ways, less overt but just as pervasive. In the play Merchant, Shylock's moving speech in attempt for understanding against racism and prejudice: “I am a Jew. Hath Not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? ... if you prick us, do we not bleed?”. In a world like today, people who are of different religions and races, are all able to echo such sentiments which makes us question our own 'value of mercy' and reflect whether our demonization of others can or will go too far. I'm Asian, I was born in Australia and also raised within its multicultural society, yet I am still discriminated for my race, culture, identity. Within the society I believe to be 'multicultural', yet I am still considered to be 'the other'. “I'd be interested to see a production of The Merchant of Venice where you substitute 'Muslim' for 'Jew' “ quoted by theatre personality John Bell from the Q and A show in 2016. Shylock's impassioned speech shows him appealing to our universal humanity. Regardless of race gender or creed, we are all ultimately human, who extend beyond a two-dimensional character. Shylock's speech poignantly articulates the silent cry of marginalised minorities around the world, revealing the arbitrary criteria that human use to evaluate others and designate them as 'other'. This allows us to question ourselves, to reflect on why, despite our common humanity, we even consider certain people to be 'other' in the first place.
Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice portrays that the other as a universal, continuously resonant idea. Even within a multicultural, post 9/11 society, racism and discrimination continues to still be a prominent issue.