Take a stroll with us through the shady back alleys of Venice. If you were looking for a relaxing ride through the gondola canals...well, wrong travel guide.
|Author||Shakespeare - William Shakespeare|
Justice and Judgement
character of Shylock.
This guy is mean...
And in a lot of ways fits every stereotype that the people of Shakespeare’s day believed
about Jews. What is the Merchant of Venice really trying
to say about Jewish people?
Is it possible that the play is promoting the anti-Semitic attitude of its time?
We can definitely see how it’d be easy to be anti-Semitic in 16th century England. 
Most Jewish people had been given the boot way back in the 13th century...
…so all the English had to go on in Shakespeare’s time were popular stories that made Jews out
to be diabolic super-villains.
These stories even claimed that Jews stole Christian children on Easter to use the blood
for Passover rituals.
Some have said that the pound of flesh Shylock demands from Antonio is a reference to these
…and that the play is reinforcing these out-of-control stereotypes.
Of course, others will tell you that the play is actually criticizing the prejudices of
Shylock’s famous speech in which he asks… if you prick us do we not bleed?... insists
that Jews and Christians share a common humanity.
The fact that Shylock says all this even though he's been spit upon, kicked, and railed against
for being different…
…could show that he’s more than a negative Jewish stereotype.
So it might be that the play is way ahead of its time in its portrayal of Jewish people,
right? Another possibility, though, is that the play
isn’t taking any stance at all.
It’s just dramatizing exactly the kind of stuff that was going down in its time.
Shakespeare may have written a character like Antonio, who spews tons of terrible things
about Jews, because...
…well...there were tons of people going around doing just that.
The end of the play, where Shylock is stripped of a lot of his wealth and forced to convert
…might not be saying that this is the way things ought to be.
Instead, it could just be showing the way things are.
So what do you think?
What is the Merchant of Venice trying to say about the Jews?
Is it promoting the anti-Semitic attitude of its time?
Is it critiquing these prejudices?
Or is it just telling it how it is?
Shmoop amongst yourselves.
I'd rephrase this.