Merchant of Venice

Shakespere's Typological Allegory: Legalism in The Merchant of Venice

Elizabethans studied the Bible according to typological doctrine. Typology sought to resolve the problem of broken continuity between Old and New Testaments by positioning the Old Testament (the Old Law) as the foreshadowing of its own fulfillment by the New Testament (the New Law). A significant schism between the Old and New Law was that between the legitimacy of salvation through "antinomianism" or "legalism." Legalism, as described by Christian theology, is an inappropriate dedication to laws, specifically Mosaic Law. Used pejoratively, legalism indicated an individual's insensitivity and misplaced pride, as well as a display of neglect for the ideas of mercy and faith taught by the New Law. William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice offers insight into the conflicting ideas of the law, mercy, salvation, and the grace of God that are present in the Old and New Law. Through typological references to the Biblical story of Jacob, Shakespere argues for the Elizabethan belief of antinomianism over legalism and the succession of the New Law over the Old.

In The Merchant of Venice, Shylock, a Jewish moneylender, is the antagonist, but his character cannot simply be reduced to the status of villain....

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