Merchant of Venice

The Anti-Semitic Question in Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice

Few Shakespearean plays have aroused such controversy and debate throughout the centuries, as has The Merchant of Venice. This potentially tragic play masks itself in comedy, giving its audience a glance at the inherent social prejudices of Renaissance Europe. But just at the moment when the audience receives this glance, any seriousness of thought is quickly snatched from them, and apathy is allowed to remain as laughter embellishes their social evils.

It is difficult to determine Shakespeare's intent in the creation of this play. Is it anti-Semitic or does it criticize anti-Semitism? Or does it merely represent the anti-Semitism of the day without commentary from Shakespeare? Some critics see Shylock as the villain and a pure characterization of the period opinion of Jews. While others view him as the victim, receiving a level of sympathy from Shakespeare. Even though we would like to think of Shakespeare's genius to be beyond such prejudice thinking, when taking in all considerations, most critics tend to lean towards the belief that Shakespeare was simply following the anti-Semitic tradition of that period. When understanding both the historical context of his play and the preconceived notions of his audience, it is...

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