Brothers and Others

W. H. Auden, “Brothers and Others,” in The Dyer’s Hand, 21837


In The Merchant of Venice and Othello Shakespeare depicts a very different kind of society. Venice does not produce anything itself, either raw materials or manufactured goods. Its existence depends upon the financial profits which can be made by international trade, “… the trade and profit of the city / Consisteth of all nations” – that is to say, on buying cheaply here and selling dearly there, and its wealth lies in its accumulated money capital. Money has ceased to be a simply convenient medium of exchange and become a form of social power which can be gained or lost. Such a mercantile society is international and cosmopolitan. It does not distinguish between the brother and the alien other than on a basis of blood or religion – from the point of view of society, customers are brothers, trade rivals others.

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