Shakespeare was not a Jew Hater
One of the best things about a Shakespeare play is that you can always debate what he really meant. This is especially true with Shakespeare’s “Merchant of Venice.” Now made into a concept musical album called “Shylock Sings the Blues”
Here are six reasons that evidece indicates that contrary to being an antisemitic play “Merchant of Venice” has a “hidden” pro Jewish /humanistic messsage.
1. At the time Shakesoeare wrote th play Queen Elizabeth’s Jewish physician, Dr. Lopez was executed for treason. Antisemitism was a staple belief in England. A group of Englishman, however protested the execution of Lopez charging that it was a trumped up charge based on him being a Jew. In other words, there was an anti -antisemitic movement that Shakespeare was aware of.
2. A speech often left out of productions by Launcelot Gobbo, Shylock’s servant, indicates the moral waekness of the antisemite. Here, as he often does, Shakespeare puts truth in the mouth of the idiot. Gobbo’s monolog reveals the inner conflict between the conscience and the “fiend” The fiend wins.
Gobbo knows it is wrong to betray the Jew but he does it for his own self gain. This is a condemnation of all bigots.
3The “trial” speech about mercy so righteously presented by Portia is based on the prejudiced assumption that Jews have no mercy because there is none in the Old Testement and that only Christians know about mercy. In fact words are taken from an ancient Jewish text almost verbatim and put into Portias plea for mercy. We know Shakespeare was familiar with this text so he knew that it was a lie that there is no mercy in the Jewish faith.
4 Of course there is the famous “Hath not a Jew eyes… if you prick us do we not bleed?” This speech that Shylock makes proposes the common humanity denied by the Venetians to the Jew in the play. Isn’t this the antithesis to racsism?
5 Less concrete is the evidence that Shylock has a higher purpose than blood revenge. Whe Portia asks if Shylock will take three times the money to spare Antonio he refuses by saying. “An oath, an oath. I have an oath in Heaven”
I believe the oath is to do right by exposing the Christain hypocracy and defend Jewish honor, not blood letting.
6.Jessica, Shylocks daughter eagerly betrays her father and her religon. You would think that a Jew leaving the tribe would be celebrated by an antisemite. But the last we hear from Jessica makes us realize she may have made a huge mistake. The last line she speaks ” I am never merry when I hear sweet music.” Could this be anything but punishment for betraying her father and her religion?
Can you find other clues to a pro Jewish meaning in Merchant of Venice?
This entry was posted on Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012 at 5:14 pm
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