William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice Essay

William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice Essay

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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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