Index of plays by William Shakespeare Introduction - The play and the image displayed in the picture This section is dedicated to The Merchant of Venice, the play by William Shakespeare.
Disclaimer Anti-Semitism in The Merchant of Venice and The Jew of Malta Elizabethan England produced two great plays involving Jewish protagonists, and for most of the past hundred years or so it has been generally believed that Anti semitism in merchant of venice of these plays is essentially defensible although highly problematic while the other is simply and crudely anti-Semitic.
The Merchant of Venice remains controversial, and with good reason, but it is generally defended and is and can be performed in the English-speaking world without much protest.
There are occasional public readings of the play, and there have been one or two productions in London and New York, but its reputation as an anti-Semitic rant has rendered it pretty well outside the scope of general theatrical performance and even undergraduate university courses.
I think the general opinion has it precisely backwards: To begin with the Merchant of Venice, for most of the history of the reception of the play, Shylock has been seen as fundamentally an unsympathetic character if not a villain. He is also often seen as a caricature of a grasping, vicious and resentful Jew.
The debate is not about whether or not Shylock is bad, but really is about whether Shylock is bad because he is a bad Jew or bad because he is simply a Jew.
The play establishes quite clearly that he and his community are badly treated in Venice and subject to vicious discrimination, so it could be argued that he came by his rage honestly. Shylock therefore has every opportunity to express his undoubtedly well-founded grievances, give his famous speech about the equal humanity of Jews with Christians, and justify his quest for vengeance on the grounds that Christian revenge is typical and that therefore Jewish revenge cannot be faulted.
And, nowadays, it is almost always performed that way. First of all, the underlying logic of the play, and especially the question of the bond and the pound of flesh, appears to be rooted in the contrast between what are supposedly rigid, inflexible, dogmatic and draconian Jewish ethics versus Christian mercy and forgiveness.
The citizenry of Venice and its political leadership all repeatedly implore Shylock to show forgiveness and be merciful, implicitly as a Christian would, even though the law would appear to allow him to extract a bloody and fatal repayment of his loan.
For the Jew in the Merchant of Venice to be depicted as unmerciful, inflexible and literalistic in his legalism is, in fact, deeply rooted in Christian religious polemics against Jewish beliefs and practices.
It is the old, flawed covenant that Christ repealed continuing to unjustifiably insist on its continued relevance even though it has been superseded by a superior religious and moral sensibility that supposedly replaces an emphasis on justice with an emphasis on mercy.
Of course, the Christians of Venice are so superior to Shylock that in the end his effort to exploit legal literalism is his comeuppance since his bond called for a pound of flesh but not a drop of blood.
In other words, when their efforts to appeal to Christian mercy fall on deaf Jewish ears, their own legal literalism and dexterity can outmatch the Jewish one.
The horrifying ritual humiliation of Shylock in the trial scene is not simply the debasement of a bad individual, it is a theatrical performance of Christian religious antagonism against not only Jews but Judaism as it was stereotypically perceived during most of the past millennium.
Of course, many performances have demonstrated that it is possible to downplay this aspect of the Merchant to the point that many people fail to see it or that it is not reflected in a given production. However, in the text as it exists I fear it is unmistakable. Shakespeare accords Shylock his full humanity and makes his personal distaste for racism quite apparent.
But, he also participates enthusiastically in the assertion and representation of the superiority of Christian values and culture over Jewish ones, and I think it is impossible to fail to recognize this clearly in the Merchant.
Therefore, while it is certainly a great work of art and an important humanist document that includes a great deal of antiracist sentiment, it seems impossible to me not to conclude that the Merchant of Venice does in fact also reflect anti-Semitism based on religious bigotry. The Jew of Malta has acquired a perfectly dreadful reputation for anti-Semitism during the same period of time in which enormous efforts have been expended to recuperate the Merchant of Venice from the same charge.
But I think the general opinion has it exactly backwards: The Jew of Malta is generally seen as anti-Semitic because even more than Shylock, Barabas is a stereotype of the wealthy, grasping, unscrupulous, avaricious Jew. He also despises Christians and is introduced as a follower of Machiavelli, the synonym of amoral ruthlessness in Elizabethan England.
He is also responsible for and enthusiastic about numerous murders, especially when committed against Christians. It has been argued that the abuses by various authorities against Barabas turn him into the anti-Semitic stereotype as the play unfolds, but I find this unconvincing.
From the outset, Barabas is a thoroughly villainous character with no redeeming features at all. Because of this, he is often contrasted with Shylock who has many redeeming features and whose rage is much more carefully explored with typical Shakespearean subtlety and depth.
I think the reputation of the Jew of Malta as an anti-Semitic play rests on the absolutely immoral and stereotypically evil character of Barabas and the contrast with the Merchant of Venice and its more nuanced portrayal of Shylock who can be and now usually is portrayed sympathetically.
No such sympathetic performance of Barabas is conceivable. However, the key to the Jew of Malta is that none of the other characters are any better — indeed, all of them prove at least as bad if not worse than Barabas himself.
Ithamore, a Turkish Muslim slave purchased by Barabas, proves more vicious, murderous and immoral than his master, although also much less intelligent. The continuously invading Turks have a master plan to turn the entire Maltese population into galley slaves.
As for the Christians in the play, I would argue that at every stage they outdo both the Jews and the Muslims in avarice, hypocrisy, violence and sheer unmitigated badness. Monks and nuns are depicted as engaging in unrelenting orgies of sexual depravity.
Two friars behave in the most outrageous manner in order to try to entice Barabas into joining their orders, thereby gaining his wealth. When Barabas requires Christian mercy, though he has been continuously upbraided throughout the play for not showing any himself, he receives none, from either the Christians or the Turks.
All profess superior moral and religious values yet all display the same debased hypocrisy, violence, rage and greed.
Marlowe appears at first to be launching into a familiar and despicable anti-Semitic screed, but by the end of the poem there is no doubt that what he is expressing is not so much anti-Semitism as cynicism and indeed misanthropy.The Merchant of Venice Please see the bottom of the page for extensive Merchant of Venice resources.
Please see the bottom of each scene for full explanatory notes and commentary. The blood rite. At the dawn of civilization, the blood rite, in which human blood is drunk from the body of a still-living victim, was known to many tribes. The history of antisemitism, defined as hostile actions or discrimination against Jews as a religious or ethnic group, goes back many centuries, with antisemitism being called "the longest hatred".
Jerome Chanes identifies six stages in the historical development of antisemitism. Pre-Christian anti-Judaism in ancient Greece and Rome which was primarily ethnic in nature. The Merchant of Venice is a 16th-century play written by William Shakespeare in which a merchant in Venice must default on a large loan provided by a Jewish moneylender.
It is believed to have been written between and Their disproportionate participation in communism, Marxism, and socialism. Marxism is an exemplar of a universalist ideology in which ethnic and nationalist barriers within the society and indeed between societies are eventually removed in the interests of social harmony and a sense of communal interest.
While the Merchant of Venice is an Anti-Semitic play, it at the same time is not because it may have not been Shakespeare’s intention to create a work that would become a symbol of AntiJudaism.
The Merchant of Venice is set hundreds of years before it was written because the.