Shylock, Jew Hating and the concept of Mercy
The Merchant of Venice is a study in religious and cultural prejudice. The religious prejudice is represented in the play by the belief held by the Christians that the so called “Old Testament” had no teaching of mercy and forgiveness and Christ’s teaching of love burst upon a world that lived in a vacum, without these most human values. Shakespeare knew very well that this image of the merciless Jew was a complete sham. One of the many ironies or ” inversions” found in Shakespeare is the Mercy speech by Portia at Shylock’s trial. That speech, that lauds mercy, was inspired by, if not lifted from a Hebrew Wisdom text that predates the New Testament. Thats right ,the writings of a Rabbi from 200BC.
Portias words from the play ”The quality of Mercy is not strained, it droppeth as a gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath…”
The following words come from the Apocrypha under the title Ecclesiasticus.(found in Gross,Shylock 1992)
” Oh how fair a thing is mercy in the time of anguish and trouble. It is like a cloud of rain that cometh in a time of drought.”
We know Shakespeare was familiar with this Jewish text because he lifted other lines and names from it.
Digging in the mines of Shakespeare never fails to reward.
Look foward to the release of the Music CD SHYLOCK SINGS THE BLUES- A pro-Jewish updated musical,telling of the Merchant of Venice.
This entry was posted on Tuesday, March 6th, 2012 at 11:25 pm
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