preview

Determining Whether there is a Presence of Anti-Semitism in William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice

Decent Essays
Determining Whether there is a Presence of Anti-Semitism in William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice

It is quite clear when reading The Merchant of Venice that there is a large focus on Shylock being a Jew. This is very prominent in his "I am a Jew" speech he, the Jewish moneylender, angry and betrayed, rails against the non-Jewish world which torments him. Antonio "hath disgraced me, and hindered me half a million, laughed at my losses, mocked at my gains, scorned my nation, thwarted my bargains, cooled my friends, heated mine enemies - and what's his reason? I am a Jew," he exclaims. Then comes the famous speech. "Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections,
…show more content…
"If I do not love her I am a Jew," proclaims Benedick about Beatrice; meaning that if he does not love her he is a scoundrel. In "Macbeth," the witches intone "Liver of blaspheming Jew" as they pop another vile ingredient into their cauldron. Servants invite each other for drinks, stating that one who refuses the offer is "a Jew." Portia, in her impassioned speech about mercy: "The quality of mercy is not strained, / It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven" changes her tune when it is her turn to be merciful. "Not so fast, Jew". to Shylock, as she relentlessly increases his punishment. This is a concrete example of why maybe Shylock is the way he is: "The villainy you teach me I will execute, and it shall go hard but I will better the instruction."

I would argue, despite the anti Semitic content of some of the scenes in this play, that the play is not solely anti Semitic or that Shakespeare is so. At first it may appear that Shakespeare is merely building the play up to show a cantankerous Jew who receives his comeuppance, however Antonio, the merchant of Venice, is shown to be a hard-hearted man who curses Jews and spits upon their coats. When he is forced to ask Shylock for a loan, not only does he refuse to apologise for this behaviour, but also he actually says, "I am like to call thee so again, to spit on thee again, to spurn
    Get Access