Shakespeare and Anti-Semitism in the Merchant of Venice

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Anti-Semitism and the desecration of the Jewish population have been in existence for nearly five thousand years. In the Elizabethan era, a question of anti-Semitism invariably arises. In William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, we find that one of the characters is the embodiment and expression of anti-Semitic attitude that is pervasive in Elizabethan society. "Anti-Semitism was an intricate part in Shakespeare's years. Jews were considered vile and scorned upon. Shakespeare presents Judaism as an 'unchangeable trait'" (Bloom 37). Shakespeare's age based their anti-Semitism on religious grounds because the Elizabethans inherited the fiction, fabricated by the early Church, that the Jews murdered Christ and were therefore in…show more content…
In act two, scene two, lines twenty-four through twenty-eight, Launcelot Gobbo identifies Shylock as "a kind of devil", "the devil himself", and "the very devil incarnation". Shylock's daughter, Jessica, identifies Shylock's house as hell. Solanio identifies Shylock as "the devil . . . in the likeness of a Jew" (III,i,19-21) and Bassanio echoes this sentiment by identifying Shylock as a "cruel devil" (IV,i,217). Antonio further cements the association between Shylock and the devil by noting how Shylock's arguments remind him how "The devil can cite scripture for his purpose" (I,iii,97-100). This explicit demeaning of Shylock cannot but be significant in light of the historical outline that has been observed through the desecration of Jews for many years. The images of Jews as blood-thirsty murderers of Jesus who snatch innocent Christian children for slaughter in bizarre Passover rituals seems to provide a potent back-drop for the demonic appellations that are heaped upon Shylock in The Merchant of Venice (Fiedler 63). The progressive abuse of Shylock as a usurer, which leads to the reduction of his humanity to a demonic form, should fully prepares us for the revelation in The Merchant of Venice that Shylock's motive for the entire bond with Antonio is murder. By murdering Antonio, Shylock will be rid of a bothersome business of rival. The play appears to suggest that Bassanio was right to caution Antonio to suspect "fair terms
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