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Shakespeare And Anti Semitism In The Merchant Of Venice

1384 words - 6 pages

     Anti-Semitism and the desecration of the Jewish population have been in existence for nearly five thousand years. In the Elizabethan era, a question of anti-Semitism invariably arises. In William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, we find that one of the characters is the embodiment and expression of anti-Semitic attitude that is pervasive in Elizabethan society. "Anti-Semitism was an intricate part in Shakespeare's years. Jews were considered vile and scorned upon. Shakespeare presents Judaism as an 'unchangeable trait'" (Bloom 37). Shakespeare's age based their anti-Semitism on religious grounds because the Elizabethans inherited the fiction, fabricated by the early Church, that the Jews murdered Christ and were therefore in league with the devil and were actively working to subvert spread of Christianity. The religious grounds of this anti-Semitism means that if a Jew converted to Christianity, as Shylock is forced to do in The Merchant of Venice, then all will be forgiven as the repentant Jew is embraced by the arms of the all merciful Christian God of love. In fact, some Christian believed--as do some fundamentalist sects today--that the coming of the Kingdom of God was aided by converting the Jews to Christianity. Anti-Semitism in Shakespeare's time is portrayed in his masterpiece The Merchant of Venice.

     "Shylock the Jew, one of William Shakespeare's profoundly ambivalent villains, is strangely isolated" (Bloom 24). He is portrayed as a usurer: A leader of money on interest rather than a receiver of stolen goods. This concept will prove to the audience that the Jews are in fact "cheap" and have a frugal sense for possessions. It is an intriguing idea to think that even in Shakespeare's time, stereotyping was a mundane part of their lives. Shakespeare's anti-Semitism seems harsh, but shows that not all Jews are vile like most people believed in his time. Shylock is shown to be hard working (Goddard 5). Believe it or not, there is some compassion for the desecration of the Jews in Shakespeare's play.

Antonio recognizes the futility of opposing Shylock's passion with reason. "He seems the depository of the vengeance of his race" (Goddard 11). Antonio consequently appears as a charitable Christian who lends money freely, in contrast to the miserly and extortionist Shylock, who preys upon the hardship of others in order to further, increase his own material wealth. Antonio positions the Christian virtue of lending money without interest; at the basis of Shylock's hatred of Antonio. But what is significant about Antonio's argument is how it undermines the justice of Shylock's hatred; because Shylock hates Antonio for what is an essentially Christian virtue, Shylock attacks not only a good Christian man of good Christian virtue but also, by extension, Christianity in general. Shylock's hatred thus has no ground in the Christian social and...

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