Religion, Money, and Race
in The Merchant of Venice
Salman Rushdie's The Moor's Last Sigh is the story of the marriage between a Christian girl and a Jewish man of Cochin, India, and of their child, who is called the 'Moor' both because his skin is dark, and because his mother lovingly nicknames him 'mor' ('peacock' in Hindi). In telling his saga about strife and love in a multi-religious, multiracial land, Rushdie harks back to the various migrations of Muslims, Christians, and Jews into India from the West. The Portuguese Christians came in search of trade, the Jews much earlier in order to escape persecution in Spain and Portugal, and the Muslims for both those reasons. All of them were to eventually fight over control of the pepper trade, but also to intermarry and consort with one another, and indeed with other communities in India. In narrating their tale, Rushdie goes back to The Merchant of Venice (1596–7) and Othello, both of which speak of similar tensions and loves, and to the period in history they dramatize, when outward journeying catalysed the internal tensions of Europe.
Rushdie contrasts his Aurora, who defies her family to marry a Jew, with Portia, who can only bring herself to address Shylock twice by his name, and who will not flout her father's will that she marry the man who chooses between three caskets of gold, silver, and lead to find the one that contains her picture. Portia, 'the very archetype of justice', Rushdie notes, is rather pleased when the 'tawny' Prince of Morocco fails to choose the right casket: