Anti-Semitism In Shylock

783 Words4 Pages
The character of Shylock is presented as a more nuanced representation than a 1600s anti-Semitic English audience would, perhaps, have expected. The anti-Semitism in the play itself is certainly present. Characters direct much hate and vitriol at Shylock not only for his (admittedly reprehensible) character, but specifically for his Jewishness. Antonio likens him to an "evil soul" and a "devil" (Shakespeare, Act 1 Sc 3, 105-110). Lancelet the servant reiterates this line of thought, saying of "the Jew, my Master" that he "is a kind of devil." On the other hand, it cannot be ignored that Shylock's own responses to criticism of him are not only eloquently delivered, but effective at gaining the empathy of the audience. The play grants Shylock…show more content…
On the one hand, it is difficult for the audience not to feel a certain degree of sympathy towards a man who has endured as much loss and punishment as Shylock suffers by the end of the play. He leaves the courthouse broken and broke, with half his wealth in the hands of the city and half in the hands of the man he hates, Antonio. Antonio further humiliates him by having Shylock convert to Christianity if he wishes his wealth be left to Jessica, his daughter, and not Antonio.Jessica, meanwhile, has left him and his faith behind, converting to Christianity herself and eloping with Lorenzo. On the other hand, not all of the hatred on display against Shylock is completely unwarranted. He repeatedly shows himself to not be above discriminating as he is discriminated against, saying of Antonio that he hates him for he is a Christian (Shakespeare, Act 1 Sc. 3, 363), and hoping to exact revenge by way of murder on Antonio. Furthermore, even in acts of genuine emotion, there is the fact that his character is depicted with the tinge of apathetic money-mindedness about him. Even in his grief on being abandoned by his daughter, he is more concerned that she has fled with his money and precious stones (Shakespeare, Act 2 Sc. 8, 1085-1095). Shylock owns a ring of great sentimental value to himself, however, he laments its loss as Jessica spends it in Genoa…show more content…
The first to whom we are introduced is Jessica, daughter to Shylock. Jessica wishes to have little to do with her father, wishing to run away and elope with Lorenzo, converting to Christianity if the need be. Jessica is portrayed as being stuck in a home life she resents and wishes to escape. When escape comes for Jessica, however, she steals from her father as she makes her exit, stealing not only money but a ring of great sentimental value to Shylock. Jessica's overall portrayal, however, is a sympathetic one through and through - we are meant to feel bad for her having to live as Shylock's daughter, and support her attempts at escape and conversion. The only other Jewish character in the play is Tubal, friend to Shylock. Tubal's role in the proceedings are so small as to hardly have any room for anti-Semitism at all- he appears, is insulted by Salanio for his Jewishness (Shakespeare, Act 3 Sc. 1, 1310-1315), delivers exposition on Antonio's misfortunes and Jessica's reckless spending in Genoa, and exits. He exhibits no negative character traits, however this would seem to be more as a result of his extremely limited role. Still, he is not painted in an antagonistic light through his own words or actions, only the words of others, thereby
Open Document