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Shih-pei Kuo

Abstract

This essay borrows Žižek’s interpretation of racism which combines the Marxist and psychoanalytic perspectives to read Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice. I argue that Shylock, the Jewish usurer, embodies both the structural contradiction of capitalism and the social contradiction which characterizes the Venetian setting torn by capitalism and Christianity. As Shylock exposes these contradictions which the Christian Venetians refuse to confront, he is destined to be a scapegoat. From the Marxist point of view, the survival of capitalism relies on incessant production, which also means incessant investment of capital. Therefore, an active financial system is requisite to sustain the prosperity of capitalism. Paradoxically, this necessary condition of capitalism which facilitates the maximum use of cash is also its inherent vulnerability: once the circulation of cash is disrupted, it can lead to the crisis of the overall domino-effect collapse. The usury represented by Shylock indeed reflects such inherent contradiction of capitalism. Also, usury, which excludes any human factor and only engages the direct monetary exchange, also contradicts the Christian orthodox belief of generosity and unrequited devotion. These central Christian values are certainly questioned as Bassanio’s courtship of Portia, based on his disguised wealth, is indistinguishable from a profitable enterprise. From the psychoanalytic point of view, Shylock’s fascination with money and revenge also mirrors the Christians’ clandestine longing for these two forbidden enjoyments. However, what is more puzzling and hostile to the Christians is Shylock’s paranoid insistence on bloody revenge beyond the concern of monetary gains, “che vuoi,” an unexplainable desire of the other. Therefore, Shylock the other must be vanquished, by converting him to Christianity, in other words, by homogenizing him, to disguise the Christians’ problematic of desire.

Open access

Kai Li Liu

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