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Jews and Christians in The Merchant of Venice

Seminararbeit 2002 11 Seiten

Anglistik - Literatur


Table of contents


1.0 The historical background of Jews in the Middle Ages respectivley during
the Elizabethan age
1.1 Shakespeare’s knowledge of Hebraic Accompany

2.0 Shylock’s attitude towards Christians
2.1 Jewish bias
2.2 Shylock’s defendence

3.0 Attitude towards Jews and Christians by authorities
3.1 The form of address towards Shylock
3.2 The treatment of Shylock
3.3 The form of address and treatment towards Antonio

4.0 The protait of the Christans in The Merchant of Venice
4.1 Proof for Christian behaviour
4.1.1 Portia’s request for mercy
4.1.2 Antonio’s charity and Christian values
4.2 Christian hypocrisy
4.3 Jessica’s conversion



The drama Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare was first printed in 1600 in quarto, of which nineteen copies survived. this was followed by a 1619 printing, and later an inclusion in the First Folio in 1623. The plot of The Merchant of Venice has been described as a great commentary on the nature of racial and religious interactions.

Differences between Jews and Christians in The Merchant of Venice is a divergent topic discussed quite a lot by various scholars during diverse decades. Especially the question whether William Shakespeare was anti-judaic or not was and is of great concern, since the complex protagonist Shylock arises hate and pity by the audience (or reader). This fact left critics wondering what Shakespeare was really trying to achieve with the play.

I am going to try to analyze this topic based on the play with special emphasis on the Elizabethan age, Shakespeare’s historical background.

1.0 The historical background of Jews in the Middle Ages respectively during the Elizabethan age

Tremendously important for the understanding of the differences between Jews and Christians in the play The Merchant of Venice is the fact that all Jews were expelled from England in 1290. It took approximately 350 years to be exact, until 1652, to reverse these anti-Jewish politics.

During the Middle Ages, Jews were driven away from almost all parts of Europe but none of these expulsions were as final as in England. Adding to that, English monarchs performed a new critical stage of cruelty and exploitation and forced them to exploit, even for European standards during this epoch.[1]

When the abuse of the Jew as usurer is combined with the Christian religious bias that marked Elizabethan England, the result is a natural demonization of the Jew. This demonization leads to the degradation of Shylock and portrays the image of a wanton murderer. In Elizabethan times, this corruption of the Jewish religion was of course perfectly acceptable. Shakespeare probably developed his images of Jews, which undermined his characterisation of Shylock, either from the knowledge of books or more likely by urban legends.

1.1 Shakespeare’s knowledge of Hebraic Accompany

The diverse memories, rumours and legends of the Jews substituted a realistic view of this monotheistic grouping. Although Jews were not permitted to settle in England, quite a few Marrans - baptised Jews, who emigrated or were expelled from Spain - entered England. Nevertheless, there were no living conditions for professed Jews due to prejudices in financial, religious or national ways.[2]

It is unlikely that William Shakespeare himself ever met a person of Jewish religion. He was probably just a person influenced by the ideas and ideals of his age and legends like the “Wandering Jew”, the “Ritual Murder of the Jew” and other bias.[3]

Especially the criteria of usury connote prejudices concerning the Judaism, a development which started in the early 12th century and was taken up by the Elizabethan literature, e.g. by Shakespeare or Chaucer.[4]


[1] Shylock – Die Geschichte einer Figur, S. 33

[2] Shylock – Die Geschichte einer Figur, S. 50-52

[3] Shylock – Die Geschichte einer Figur, S. 33-35

[4] Shylock – Die Geschichte einer Figur, S. 36 & The Merchant of Venice, I, iii, 106-123


ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Buch)
466 KB
Institution / Hochschule
Universität Osnabrück
Jews Christians Merchant Venice




Titel: Jews and Christians in The Merchant of Venice