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Steven P Sanderson II 26 Brewster Ln. E. Setauket, NY 11733 631-942-7654 631-91-9252 Anti Semitism in The Merchant of Venice Steven P Sanderson II This paper is going to discuss Anti Semitism in The Merchant of Venice. I am going to discuss how Anti Semitism appears and revolves around a character by the name of Shylock. If you have ever heard of someone being called a Shylock remember that it is derived from this play, written by Shakespeare most likely in either 1596 or 1597. Shylock is a Jewish businessman, who at the end of the story is charged with wanting to kill Bassanio. It is said that Shylock leant money and held a bond on the money leant, but wanted him to default on the loan because the bond was worth much more. In the Elizabethan era society was undeniably Anti-Sematic. English Jews had been expelled in the middle Ages and were not permitted to return until the rule of Oliver Cromwell. Via Elizabethan stage Jews were portrayed in hideous fashion usually as evil and greedy. (1) : Philippe Burrin, Nazi Anti Semitism: From Prejudice to Holocaust. The New Press, 2005 ISBN 1-56584-969-8, p. 17. (It was not until the twelfth century that in northern Europe (England, Germany and France) a region until then peripheral began to develop, Judeophobia that developed due to imagined horrible behaviors.) Some people interpret the play as to contrast the mercy of a Christian and the

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vengefulness of a Jew. It may also be interpreted that a Jew would lack the religious grace to comprehend mercy. A majority of Shakespeare’s audiences were AntiSematic. Sympathy for Shylock can be construed or pulled upon from the difference in how the concept of forgiveness of sins is understood. For Christians generally at any time may have their sins of trespasses relieved, if they “truly repent”. For people who follow the Jewish faith forgiveness is not that simple and requires more personal reflection. The act of Teshuvah is called a deep reckoning. According to some Jewish thinkers the laws set forth by God were meant to make people happy. According to this view Shylock would be the most morally upright character. Which honestly is probably true no matter how you look at it, or how you view any type of religion? It is however difficult to label Shylock as a monster, when you take into account all of the persecution that he had to endure along the way and by Christian hands nonetheless. One of the themes that lends credence to the view of Jews only worrying about money or placing and extremely high value on it come from Act 2 Scene 8 line 15 when Shylock is quoted as saying “O my ducats, O my daughter.” As you can plainly see he places the two issues together and places the monetary issue over his own blood. With this line in the time and even today this would tell someone that Shylock loved his money as much as his blood or even more. It is the opinion of some given the time that this play was written that it was done on purpose to perpetuate a feeling of Jewish hatred. (2) Not only in the play is Judaism referred to as something spiteful, but Christianity itself is not portrayed in a particularly glamorous manner either. Really

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someone only needs to look at history as a whole to see how religion has played its part in many tragedies especially Christianity. It is well known and documented that Christians when they ruled especially the division of the Catholic Church of how torturous and unforgiving they were, when it suited them. One event that is and goes seemingly overlooked and underappreciated is from Act 1 Scene 3 beginning with line 48. Here Shylock says “Why look how you storm! I would be friends with you and have your love, forget the names hat you have stained me with, supply your present needs and take no doit of usance for my monies, and you’ll not hear me! This is kind I offer”. (3) ( Here it is not only shown that Shylock loans Antonio the money but dose so interest free! This speech helps Shylock and Judaism to show the rest of the world that Jews are not mean and spiteful but loving just as you and I. Still during the times and even today people only see or remember the fact that Shylock wants to follow the rules of the contract and to take the pound of flesh from around his heart. Now the only reason this clause was in the contract was due to the fact of how horribly Antonio had treated Shylock in the first place. Another point to look at would be if Shakespeare would be responsible for perpetuating the feelings toward the Jewish community. Surely someone as famous and looked up to as himself would seem to have some moral obligation to the public that find his works so revering. In 1594 the Earl of Essex and English nobleman who lived during the Elizabethan period, one that you remember known for Anti-Sematic feelings, well the story goes that Roderigo Lopez was a Jew of Portuguese decent. He was the Queens’s personal physician and accused of poisoning her. Now Roderigo was a faithful servant, but his being Jewish in a time when it was fashionable to hate them or view them as villains, left him with little hope of any type of due process that we

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enjoy today. Roderigo's accuser also oversaw his trial which left him with no chance of being vindicated. Roderigo as you can imagine was put to death and in public for all to enjoy, but also for his own disgrace which went extremely undeserving. (4) In Act 1 Scene 1 Lines 25-26 Shylock says “The man, notwithstanding, sufficient Three Thousand Ducats… I think I may take his bond.” At this very moment Shakespeare shows that or portrays Shylock in an evil manner. Today this would still be considered a sharkish type move but more accepted in today’s demoralized world of anything goes. Basically when it comes down to it, it seems like the Anti-Semitism is just and nothing more than a holier than thou attitude towards Jews. Really there is no difference in how they were treated than from the times of Adolph Hitler. Albeit not as extreme as Hitler the attitude still remains. There was no meaningful thought behind the hatred. Sadly today hatred and violence are no long rouge elements of society but almost core pieces of it and if taken away sadly the world would probably not function or would seem to be dramatically confused. For many they would point to what is happening in the Middle East and say it is the Jews fault for there is money in destruction and the maintenance of a peaceful image. Shakespears' The Merchant of Venice was written based in a time and on an understanding of religious Anti Semitism. At the times Jews as thought by Christians who believed that the Jews killed Jesus and were in cahoots so to speak with the devil, to subvert the spread of Christianity. At the end of the play when Shylock was forced to convert to Christianity it was believed at the time that this would turn him into the repentant Jew and thus any wrongs he may have committed

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may be forgiven and would also be embraced. ( There is no way to ignore that Shylocks character displays some rather unpleasing characteristics, or stereotypes of Jews, but this may be because of the time and area in which it was written. This is not an attempt to right the injustices but only to shed some light on the thinking of the time and what people really believed – (Melton 29). Shylock is shown to really only care about one thing and

that is money, he was show as if it was the only thing that mattered. Some would say that this is evident by when the bond was made Shylock stipulating that and exact one pound of flesh must be taken if the bond should be forfeited. He is also further vilified when at court with Antonio. While in court Shylock is offered twice the bond and refuses, instead he wants the pound of flesh from around Antonio’s heart, which seems very crude and malicious. In actuality Shylock was not demanding the pound of flesh because he hated Antonio even though he should for what Antonio had done to him, but rather Shylock follows the letter of the law and therefore follows the letter of his bond. M. M. Manhoods New Cambridge Shakespeare Edition (1987) claims that The Merchant of Venice first and foremost is a romantic play that deals with love over cruelty. As noted by Halio the “Dual Image” (E. Mahon, J. Mahon 19) of the Jew could be construed as on one hand in medieval plays Jews were represented by such characters as Judas with the common belief that Jews were the devil in the flesh. On the other hand there are patriarchs such as Moses and Daniel who are shown as heroes, symbols of patience, constancy and other professed Christian virtues. This play along with many other events in our time on this earth, bring to question as to why the Jews have been hated so much and are still hated by many

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today. This I cannot answer. All I can say is that when it seemed in court that Shylock was going to get his pound of flesh it seemed like a sweet victory for Shylock no matter how gruesome it was, but he was again slapped down and force feed Christian virtues and kindness.

Works Cited

Burrin, Phillipe Nazi Anti Semitism: From Prejudice to Holocaust. 2005. Online. 06 Oct 2006. <>. chrisf, The Merchant of Venice: Shylock - Victim or Villain. 01 Apr 2001. Online. 06 Oct 2006. <>. Grant, Sterling The Nature of Anti Semitism: Religious vs. Racial. 08 May 1998. Online. 23 Oct 2006. <>. Mahon, Ellen., and John w. Mahon. The Merchant of Venice. London: Routledge, 2002. Milton, Joyce. William Shakespeare’s: The Merchant of Venice. Hauppauge: Barron's Educational, 1985. Moelwyn, William. Merchant of Venice. London: Penguin Books Ltd., 1967. Sparknotes, Analysis of Major Characters. Online. 06 Oct 2006. <>. taopooh, The Merchant of Venice: Shylock an in depth character analysis. 18 Mar 2003.

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Online. 06 Oct 2006. <>.

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