Merchant of Venice
Questioning Anti-Semitism in The Merchant of Venice
The Merchant of Venice has been interpreted over time as both a defense and an attack on Jews. (“Shylock”) While it would seem improbable that Shakespeare was forward thinking enough to completely reject the anti-Semitic sentiment of his time, the play is too complex to be classified as a simple attack on Jews. Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice was not written to make a precise statement about anti-Semitism, but instead was written to push his audiences to question their own preconceived notions about Jews in England during the Renaissance.
There is no doubt that Shylock is not a pleasant character. As the play progresses, he goes from simply scheming about getting revenge on the Christians to becoming fanatical about killing Antonio. The portrayal of Shylock as a devious and scheming Jew who is virtually a “devil” would have greatly appealed to the anti-Semitic audiences of Shakespeare’s time. (“Shylock”) However, if this was Shakespeare’s sole intention, he could have easily made the character of Shylock both single-dimensional and an excessive caricature of a Jew. Instead, Shylock is a fascinating and multi-layered character. In Act III, he gives a powerful speech about acceptance that is difficult to ignore: “Hath not a...
Join Now to View Premium Content
GradeSaver provides access to 849 study guide PDFs and quizzes, 6369 literature essays, 1754 sample college application essays, 259 lesson plans, and ad-free surfing in this premium content, “Members Only” section of the site! Membership includes a 10% discount on all editing orders.
Already a member? Log in