Shakespeare Essay, Research Paper

Shakespeare & # 8217 ; s Portrayal of Jews

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In Shakespeare & # 8217 ; s drama, The Merchant of Venice, there are, as is typical of

Shakespeare, several different subjects. One that emerges at the beginning and is

present throughout the remainder of the drama is anti-Semitism. Many of the people of

Shakespeare & # 8217 ; s clip shared the belief that Judaic people were inferior to

Christians, a belief making far back to antediluvian times. To these prejudiced

people, the Judaic character of Shylock appears to posses the typical negative

qualities of Jews. However, today & # 8217 ; s audience is better able to see that these

qualities are stereotyped and non at all typical. Further analysis has besides

led to controversy about whether the “ Merchant of Venice ” supports

anti-Semitism or efforts to expose it as a misconception. William Shakespeare

portrays the life of a Jew in his work, The Merchant of Venice. When the drama is

foremost read, Shylock, the Jew is the villian, but he is besides a adult male that has been

persecuted all of his life because of his Judaic background. The Englishmans that

lived during Shakespeare & # 8217 ; s clip viewed Jews as usurers, Satans, and an

inferior race. Some of their constructs of the Jews were true, while some were


Regardless of how it is portrayed in The Merchant of Venice, anti-Semitism

has its roots in a clip long earlier Shakespeare. Rabbi Roth says that anti-Semitism

day of the months back to ancient civilisations who shared different beliefs. One such

illustration is Rome. The Romans believed in several Gods, so they strongly opposed

Hebraism and they resented Jews, believing that they must change over these ill-conceived

people. Subsequently, Christians grew to dislike the Jews because of their opposing

position on Christ. Christianity stemmed from Judaism, and the Christians believed

themselves a flawlessness of the Judaic faith. They, excessively, viewed the Jews as

people that needed converting, and took it upon themselves to change over the Judaic

population. These negative positions of the Jews led to

many adversities brought upon the Judaic people, including the expatriate of the

Hebrews from England three hundred old ages before Shakespeare wrote The Merchant of


Hebrews have been persecuted throughout all clip and in England it started in

1290 under Edward IV. He deported all the Jews life in England to France. Not

until Cromwell & # 8217 ; s Commonwealth in 1656 were Jews allowed to set up communities

in England. However, there was a instance merely before Shakespeare wrote the Merchant

of Venice, of Queen Elizabeth & # 8217 ; s doctor. He was a born-again Jew and was

condemned to decease for confederacy against the Queen & # 8217 ; s life and the test brought

Forth all of the old accusals against the Judaic people. During this clip

Torahs were passed that that placed particular limitations on where Jews lived,

curtailed their societal and economic interactions with Christians, and increased

force per unit area on Hebrews to change over to Christianity. The Crusades were a turning point

in the history of anti-Jewish feeling because they set off a moving ridge of public violences that

killed many Hebrews and forced more to fly from Western Europe to Eastern Europe.

Myths and superstitious notions grew in the Middle Ages about the Jews. Jews were blamed

for catastrophes that could non be explained, an illustration of which would be the

Black Plague. Even though the Jews died from the pestilence besides, it did non discourage

the accusals made against them for the 1000s that died.

When the drama was written, the Jews would still stay in expatriate from England

for another 50 old ages. This is besides a major beginning of the false beliefs and

misconceptions that comprised the anti-semetic beliefs of that clip period. Many

of these anti-Semites had ne’er really seen a Jew. Therefore, they merely

recognized all of the myths about the Hebrews because they had no footing for

comparing. For case, one of these beliefs was that all Jews were black, and

that they possessed an atrocious odor. This was surely non

true, but it is an illustration of what the people of the Elizabethan clip period

idea of the Jews. They were willing to believe the negatives about the Hebrews

because they were purportedly the enemies of Christianity, something likely

preached by the Church leaders in their effort to extinguish Judaism. The

features in The Merchant of Venice are no different. The narrative takes

topographic point in Italy, but the people at that place seem to portion the same sentiment of the Jews.

They are all life in the ghettos, virtually forced to populate at that place because of

the disapproval of the Venetian citizens. Their life style is looked down upon

because it is against The Law of God. Usury, the pattern of imparting money for

involvement is considered a wickedness. Many of the Jews pattern this merely because they

are forced to. However, this is non realized by the others, and it is apparent by

Antonio and Bassanio & # 8217 ; s intervention of Shylock prior to the trade. Shylock & # 8217 ; s

sentence at the terminal of the T

rial is besides a all right illustration of the sentiment toward

Hebrews at the clip.

To the 16th century audience that first was seen The Merchant of Venice,

the character of Shylock would hold appeared to hold been a typical Jew. To the

modern twenty-four hours audience, he is a aggregation of stereotypes stemming from the anti-sematic

beliefs of the Elizabethan period which were shared by the English population,

and as some critics argue, even Shakespeare. But a closer expression reveals that

Shakespeare understood the grounds for the features of Jew such as

Usurer who was misunderstood because of anti-Semitism.

In The Merchant of Venice & # 8217 ; s beginning, Shakespeare makes it obvious that

Shylock hatreds Antonio because he is a Christian. But it besides apparent that he

besides hates Antonio because he and Bassanio have proclaimed their disapproval of

him publically, despite the fact that they have no apprehension of his grounds

for his peculiar life style.

His punishment for non carry throughing the contract of demanding on ounce of flesh

from Antonio, would look to be another negative property of a Judaic individual,

but it is merely driven by his choler at a people who treat him cruelly without

cognizing anything about him. Further into the narrative, he appears malicious and

with no clemency when he refuses to accept offerings of up to ten times the

original sum of the trade, merely so that he can transport out the original

penalty agreed upon. It is this greed that finally does him in, nevertheless.

After the aforesaid incidents, it would look that Shylock is so the

Jew portrayed by antisemitic beliefs. But he is merely an oppressed person

driven by a desire to acquire back at the same people who are maltreating him by

utilizing their ain Torahs against them. Any individual from any other faith or cultural

group could arguably be expected to respond likewise, and this is what

Shakespeare was likely portraying. He surely makes this position clear with

Shylock & # 8217 ; s reference to the courtroom in which he proclaims the similarities that

he and the remainder of them portion, despite the fact that he is a Jew. Some modern

audiences view this merely as his fallacious manner to derive understanding from the jury.

In the Merchant of Venice, Shylock is a usurer of outstanding wealth and

stature. Jews were allowed into Great Britain by Henry I merely if they would give

a per centum of their net incomes from trade and moneylending. This understanding and

the duties placed on the Jews forced the Jews to hold such high involvement rates

on their trades that they might hold a small net income for themselves. They became

celebrated for their vigorish. In The Merchant of Venice, Bassino needs money so that

he can tribunal Portia, the adult female that he loves. Bassino goes to his beloved friend

Antonio and asks for his aid and Antonio takes him to Shylock. Shylock is

hesitant at first because Antonio hindered him in concern and humiliated him in

populace. He hates Antonio for ptyalizing on him and naming

him names such as “ Canis familiaris ” and “ cutthroat Jew ” . Shylock

wants retaliation for what Antonio did to him and for all the persecutions that he

as a Jew has gone through. A batch of choler has built up in Shylock towards the


I hate him for he is a Christian ;

If I can catch him one time upon the hip,

I will feed flesh out the antediluvian score I bear him.

He hates our sacred state & # 8230 ;

Cursed be my folk it I forgive him ( 1.3. 40-49 )

He articulates how much Shylock hatreds Christians and besides Antonio. Usurer


makes a trade with Antonio. He will impart money to him merely if he he pays him

back in

three months and if he is non paid by so, so Antonio owes him a lb of


This lb of flesh is what Shylock calls “ gay flesh ” or instead

flesh for the merriment of it. He tries to do a gag but he earnestly means to take

a lb of flesh from Antonio. Shakespeare seems to portray the English position of

the Jews as Satans. Old narratives that were passed down through coevalss

depicted Jews as “ blood-thirsty liquidators ” that poisoned Wellss and

killed Christian kids for their Pesach rites. This is position is merely

enhanced by Shylock & # 8217 ; s small address after he finds out of Antonio & # 8217 ; s fiscal


I & # 8217 ; m really glad of it. I & # 8217 ; ll blight him, I & # 8217 ; ll

Anguish him, I am glad of it. ( 3.1. 116-17 )

This shows the “ homicidal ” side of Shylock and besides a small of the

diabolic side.

In The Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare portrays the beliefs of anti-Semitism

of the Elizabethan clip period, although a closer analysis proves what is true

of all of Shakespeare & # 8217 ; s works: there is more significance than the actual word. The

Judaic people were persecuted by the English, but more in general by the

Christians. There is still controversy on whether or non Shakespeare was anti-semetic

or non, and for that affair if The Merchant of Venice was intended to be.

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