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Forum namePass The Popcorn
Topic subjectBut this is revisionist history.
Topic URLhttp://board.okayplayer.com/okp.php?az=show_topic&forum=6&topic_id=229285&mesg_id=229969
229969, But this is revisionist history.
Posted by Frank Longo, Sat Nov-11-06 07:44 PM

>I am actually going to be teaching a course in the spring on
>Law and literature, and the Merchant of Venice is one of the
>books we will be reading. I have been looking into the various
>interpretations of Shylock and come to the conclusion that
>Shakespeare has purposely left him ambiguous. Is he a villain
>or a victim? We know that he has a reason to be pissed, but
>given the conditions in which Jews were forced to live and the
>indignities that they had to endure, can we truly say that
>Shylock's stance at the end of the play is villainesque? For
>example, would a slave who finally had the upper hand on his
>master be a villain if he tried to extract a little revenge
>under a lawful and binding agreement? Remember, Shylock
>initially set the parameters of the loan, not to be
>unreasonable, but in an effort to extend friendship. He knew
>that Christians looked down upon collecting interest, so
>instead of lending the money subject to interest, Shylock
>proposes that if the debt is not repaid he will take a pound
>of flesh. This is said in a facetious manner, given that
>Shylock had no reason to believe the debt would not be paid on
>time. It is not until he suffers the ultimate indignity of
>losing his daughter and his treasures that he demands the
>contract be executed literally.

It's easy to say now in a day and age where Jewish people suffer far less discrimination than they did in, say, 1600 in England. But there are multiple instances in Shakespeare (not just Merchant of Venice) where a character says something vaguely or blatantly anti-Semitic. I don't think we can safely say that Shakespeare was sympathetic toward the plight of Jewish people.

I do think he wanted to point out how a Jew would end up being so cold-hearted, and give him a bit more characterization. But I don't think that he intended at all on this excusing the callousness of Shylock's actions.