If I could bid the fifth welcome with so good a heart as I can bid the other four farewell, I should be glad of his approach. If he have the condition of a saint and the complexion of a devil, I had rather he should shrive me than wive me. (A I, s ii)
Portia speaks to Nerissa as they discuss Portia’s possible suitors early in the play. Portia clearly shows bias against any man with dark skin, who would not be her preference even if he were to possess exemplary character. Portia’s matter-of-fact approach to racial differences demonstrates the discrimination that was typical of their society. The fact that Portia would care more about the race than the character of the man she marries demonstrates the social realities of the importance of skin color in this Venetian society.
Yes—to smell pork, to eat of the habitation which your prophet the Nazarite conjured the devil into. I will buy with you, sell with you, talk with you, walk with you, and so following, but I will not eat with you, drink with you, nor pray with you. (A I, s iii)
Shylock responds to Bassanio’s offer to dine with Antonio and Bassanio. Shylock immediately declines, referring to irreconcilable differences between their Christianity and his Judaism. Eating pork represents the ethnic divide, since in the Jewish faith, pigs were considered unclean in the an Old Testament. Shylock adds scorn to his refusal of their hospitality by schooling them in the Christian belief that Jesus commanded demons to enter a herd of pigs. He explains that while they cannot eat together, they can still do business together. Such a response speaks to the religious intolerance in Venice at the time. Merchants would work with tradesmen of different faiths, but people wouldn’t allow different religions to mix in their personal or social matters. Apparently, all sides agreed to this racial and religious separation, creating division, strife, and anger.
Signor Antonio, many a time and oft
In the Rialto you have rated me
About my moneys and my usances.
Still have I borne it with a patient shrug,
For sufferance is the badge of all our tribe.
You call me misbeliever, cutthroat dog,
And spet upon my Jewish gaberdine—
And all for use of that which is mine own. (A I, s iii)
Shylock speaks directly to Antonio, reminding him how Antonio mistreats Shylock due to his religion. This discussion comes as Bassanio asks for a loan from Shylock, using Antonio’s credit. Shylock hates Antonio because of the way Antonio judges, and because he does not like the way Antonio does business. The religious difference between Antonio and Shylock fuels Antonio’s mistreatment of Shylock and, in turn, Shylock’s hatred for Antonio. The fact that Antonio remains unaware of how his religious insults disrespect and anger others shows the discrimination common to their society.