Merchant of Venice

Venetian Prejudice

Enter the Jew. In this way does Shakespeare usher the character Shylock into his play The Merchant of Venice, and here begins the greatest controversy that plagues this work. The Elizabethan era, the time in which Shakespeare lived, was a time brimming with hostility toward Jews. Elizabeth's own court doctor, a Portuguese Jew, was condemned to death (unjustly, history says) after rumor spread that he might assassinate the queen. Shakespeare's own peer playwright, Christopher Marlowe, had already written The Jew of Malta, a play full of prejudice and stereotypes - the main character, Barrabbas, named after the infamous serial killer in the Bible, is one of the most bloodthirsty and heartless characters in literature of that time period, and not incidentally, he is a Jew. The Merchant of Venice is also a seemingly very anti-Semitic work. Shakespeare displays anti-Semitism in his play through the terrible things he writes for the Jew to say, what he has other characters say about this Jew and conversely about the Christians, and in the very way he chooses to portray the Jewish culture.

Shylock the Jew says many things that appall the audience. To what likely would have been (in the time of Shakespeare) an audience almost...

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