William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice

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William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice

William Shakespeare, having spent most of his youth in England, was

influenced by England’s beliefs. England was going through a Christian

reformation that had caused friction between Christians and Jews. Jews

and Christians did not see eye to eye on almost everything and

especially on usury, the practice of lending money with interest.

Boyce, a Shakespearean critique, sums up the negative attitude that

Christians had on Jews in the 16th Century:

“Sixteenth-Century Englishmen tended to attribute to Jews only two

important characteristics, both negative: first, that Jews detested

Christians and gave much energy to devising evils for gentiles to

undergo, and second, that Jews practiced usury. The latter assumption

was grounded in an old reluctance on the part of Christians to lend

money [with interest]” (Boyce 417).

William Shakespeare shows his anti-Jewish attitude by condemning the

practice of usury in ‘The Merchant of Venice’. He accomplishes this by

using a Jewish character named Shylock. According to Pietscher

“[Shakespeare chose Shylock] in accordance with the views of his day -

he took him very naturally from the race of Jews” (Pietscher

214)(sic). Due to Shakespeare using a Jewish man, Shylock, and

portraying him negatively shows that ‘The Merchant of Venice’ is an

anti-Jewish play.

William Shakespeare uses Shylock to represent the negative mind felt

in England, about Jews. Shylock, a very wealthy merchant, is hated in

Venice because of his cruelty. Shylock’s daughter Jessica, his own

flesh and blood, hates him so much that she robs him and runs away to

marry a Chri...

... middle of paper ...

...ying, "The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose.

An evil soul producing holy witness." The second reason was that

Christians lent money without interest. This clearly affected

Shylock’s business. Shylock said, "He lends out money gratis, and

brings down the rate of usance here with us in Venice." Christians

did not make profits whereas people like Shylock made their profits

from interest, this clearly did not please the Christian community,

this may have created negative attitudes towards all Jews. Antonio is

aware that "Shylock seeks my life; his reasons I well know: I oft

delivered from his forfeitures Many that have at times made moan to

me; Therefore he hates me." (III, ii, 21-24) Antonio ‘hates our

sacred nation, and he rails.’

The above clearly depicts ‘The Merchant of Venice’ as being

anti-Jewish.
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