History Of The Jews Prior And During Shakespeares Time English Literature Essay

This paper describes the history of the Jews prior and during Shakespeare ‘s clip and reexamine the character of Shylock within that context. It attempts to find if Shakespeare ‘s presentation of Shylock is consistent with history. Interest in the topic arose from the powerful function that movies and theatres have in the development and extension of anti-semitic thoughts. William Shakespeare lived from 1561 to 1616. He wrote the Merchant of Venice in which he created the character of the Jew, Shylock, sometime between 1594 and 1596. Using the birth of Shakespeare and the authorship of the Merchant of Venice as mileposts, this paper shall reexamine the history of Jews in England until 1600.

Until the constitution of Israel after World War II, the Hebrews have had no land to name their ain. Diaspora characterizes Judaic history. In 70 AD, the Jews revolted against the Romans but failed. The Romans retaliated by destructing Jerusalem, annexing Judea as a state of Rome and consistently driving the Jews out of Palestine ( Hooker ) .

Harmonizing to Blunt ( 1830 ) , the first reference of Jews in England was in the Canons of Ecbright, Archbishop of York, which were issued in 750. It stated among others that no Christian shall “ judaize or assume to eat with a Jew ” ( 2 ) . During the reign of Edward, the Confessor ( circa 1042 to 1066 ) , the Jews were considered belongingss of the King or within the context of feudal system, they were serfs and bondman of the Crown ( 4 ) .

Historical records affecting the Jews became more extended after the Conquest ( Blunt 4 ) , which referred to the conquering of the Anglo-saxons by William of Normandy ( Hudson ) . Harmonizing to Blunt, William the Conqueror favored the subsiding of the Jews in England. The Jews lived without molestation during the reigns of the first three Norman male monarchs ( 6 ) . During this period, they began to roll up belongingss and wealth ( 6 ) . When the Crusades began and the Lords and work forces of rank disposed of their belongingss to raise financess for the campaigns, the Jew likely had the chances to spread out their retentions ( 7 ) .

However, this period of repose for the Jews was ephemeral because as they became wealthier, they besides became the focal point of the enviousness among the common people and the Church. Envy spurred malicious and superstitious slander. They besides become the mark of extortionate revenue enhancements and mandatory parts. Blunt recounted in inside informations the favoritism and persecution of the Jews under the reigns of Kings Stephen ( 11 ) , Henry, the Second ( 16 ) , Richard ( 22 ) and Henry, the Third ( 34 ) . The forms of favoritism and persecution were consistent. It was during the reign of Henry the Third that Jews were required to separate themselves from the Christians by have oning a “ badge ” in order to protect them ( 36 ) . As in the old reign, the prosperity of the Jews sowed discontent and the form of favoritism and persecution resurfaced. The Church and members of the clergy were non immune to envy. The Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of Lincoln prohibited Christian interaction with the Jew utilizing exclusion as a irresistible impulse ( 37 ) . The Jew sought permission from the Crown to seek refuge elsewhere, which monarchs did non granted.

The attitudes of the sovereign towards the Jews propagated down the line and found look in violent rabble. The Jews in the procedure learned to utilize their wealth to protect themselves. Although the King Henry the Third oppressed the Jew, he did non excuse their persecution and subjugation by the common people. They were his belongingss or in today ‘s linguistic communication his “ milking cattles ‘ and hence need protection. During Henry, the Third ‘s reign edict specifically regulated the behaviours of the Jews to include matrimony and intercourse.

King Edward, the First, banished the Jews from England in 1290 ( Blunt four ) . Edward, who succeeded his male parent Henry in 1272 and returned from the campaigns in 1274 to a great extent indebted to the Luccans, implemented a plan against Christian and Jewish merchandiser loan sharks in 1275. His policy was embodied in the Statutum de Judeismo of 1275, which specified among other that Jews were non to prosecute in vigorish and that they should populate from the net incomes of their trade. In add-on, the sovereign expected them to give him three pennies per caput yearly ( Mundill 119 ) . In 1290, Edward issued the Edict of Expulsion and confiscated their assets ( Mundill 256 ) . Charles Dickens ( 1876 ) , reciting English history for kids, described the intervention of the Jews during the reign of Edward, the First besides nicknamed “ Longshank ” for his long legs.

To disregard this sad topic of the Jews for the present, I am regretful to add that in this reign they were most mercilessly pillaged. They were hanged in great Numberss, on accusals of holding clipped the male monarch ‘s coin, – which all sorts of people had done. They were to a great extent taxed ; they were ingloriously badged ; they were, on one twenty-four hours, 13 old ages after the enthronement, taken up with their married womans and kids, and thrown into hellish prisons, until they purchased their release by paying to the male monarch 12 thousand lbs. Finally, every sort of belongings belonging to them was seized by the male monarch, except so small as would defray the charge of their taking themselves off into foreign states. Many old ages elapsed before the hope of addition induced any of their races to return to England, where they had been treated so heartlessly and had suffered so much.

Dickens ‘s mention to “ badge ” referred to the Edward ‘s edict that Jews should “ have on the tablets of the Law in length and breadth as a mark on the exterior of their outer garments ” ( as quoted in ( Mundill 119 ) . Blunt described it as “ two tabular arraies of xanthous taffety ” ( 56 ) . This impression of the badge is really similar to the Nazi demand that Jew wear the Star of David to put them apart from the others.

The clergy and the aristocracy lobbied for the ejection of the Jews from England and in 1290 ; King Edward banished the Jews from his rule in the continent ( Blunt 61 ) . Some 16,000 Jews left England before the All Saints Feast of 1290. They did non try to restore themselves in England during the 350 old ages that followed. Blunt reported a failed effort at readmission after in 1649 the decease of King Charles the first ( 68 ) . The dialogue failed when parliament increased the offered payment of the Jews from 500,000 lbs to 800,000 lbs ( 68 ) . Blunt suggested another effort during the clip of Cromwell as Protector in 1654. It similarly failed as malicious and bad rumours surrounded Cromwell and an initial mission of Jews.

Hebrews nevertheless began to dribble into England after the Restoration and by 1662 ; they had a temple in London. By 1670, there were sufficient Jews in England to justify legislative action to forestall the growing of papism, and formalise their position as foreigners. The Jews were relieved from paying foreign responsibilities under the reign of King James the Second ( 1633-1710 ) ( Blunt 72 ) .

Although there are contentions about the day of the months and the authorization of the edicts, the “ pre-Shakespeare ” history of the Jews in England shows that Jews had a documented repute for prosecuting in vigorish, irrespective of whether the repute is valid or non. They experienced increasing persecution and had, as a corporate, no footing to swear authorities and others in their communities. They were set apart from others through ordinances and norms. The timelines indicate that Shakespeare may non hold had any direct interactions with the Jews and that he could hold derived his stuffs from hear says and corporate historical memories.

Shylock in the Merchant of Venice

A hunt of “ Shylock ” in an on-line version of the Merchant of Venice yielded 15 returns, five of which straight involved Shylock. This indicates that although Shylock was the adversaries much of the kernel of his character comes from the voices of the other character. In Act 1, Scene 3, Bassanio applies a loan for 3,000 ducats collectible in three months from Shylock and says that Antonio, the merchandiser of Venice, will vouch it. Shylock favourably considers the loan but petitions to talk with Antonio. Bassanio invites Shylock to dine with him and Antonio but Shylock vehemently refuses because he purportedly could non stand the odor of porc. He besides emphasizes that he would non eat, imbibe, and pray with Bassanio. This scene failed to reflect the world that the church had prohibited Christians from dining with Jews.

Shylock meets with Antonio and decides he hates him. Although Shylock claims he hates Antonio because he is a Christian ; it is non the primary ground for his bitterness. Bassanio is besides a Christian but Shylock does non detest him. Shylock ‘s disfavor for Antonio stems from the latter ‘s pattern of loaning without involvements, which lowers the involvement rate that Shylock could enforce, and from Antonio ‘s changeless public animadversion of Shylock ‘s money loaning activities. Shylock is peeved that Antonio, who believes vigorish is immoral, should vouch such a loan ( MV, I, iii, 35-43 ) . The crisp head of Shylock instantly sees the incompatibility. If unity is the consistence of one ‘s beliefs with one ‘s action, so the moralist Antonio lacks unity.

Shylock efforts to prosecute Antonio into a affable conversation by explicating that money loaning has scriptural footing. However, Antonio abrasively cuts Shylock. In forepart of Shylock, Antonio warns Bassanio to be wary of Bible mentioning Satans touching to Shylock ( I, iii, 95-100 ) . Therefore, Antonio ‘s moralist position prompted him to be average and impolite to Shylock without aggravation. Shylock defends himself naming attending to Antonio ‘s haughtiness and deficiency of courtesies ( I, iii, 125 ) . Antonio is unaffected and Tells Shylock he would instead the latter lends him money as an enemy because friends do non bear down involvements ( I, iii, 130-135 ) . Antonio closes his head to new ways of looking at jobs and state of affairss. Shylock expresses his desire to be friends with Antonio and offers to give the loan, and dispense with the involvement. However, the punishment for default would literally be a lb of flesh. Antonio accepts the footings because he is confident he would have his investings before payment of the loan is due.

At this point, the curious footings of the contract does non reflect Shylock ‘s malicious purpose. His mention to Father Abraham in a self-talk ( MV, I, iii, 165 ) is a supplication. He complains to Father Abraham that the beastliness of the Christians make them leery. He does non desire Antonio to default payment because a lb of flesh has no value. His lone motive in doing the offer is to set up friendly relationship. Here Shakespeare shows the disaffection of the Jews and their desire for inclusion. Likewise, Shakespeare presents the sarcasm of the moralistic and righteous Antonio thought of Shylock as a “ Satan ” for being a usurer, and as a “ friend ” for suggesting a lb of flesh as punishment. After the parties agreed to the footings of loan, Shylock agrees to dine with Bassanio and Antonio.

It is interesting that Shylock ‘s observation is an application of the psychological construct of “ projection. ” Freud described projection as a defence mechanism whereby an single properties to others their ain unpleasant and unacceptable emotions to others. It besides occurs when one attributes to others their ain rejected leanings ( Bartlett 77 ) . Psychology was non a scientific discipline in Shakespeare ‘s yearss but Shylock ‘s perceptive observation indicates a deep apprehension of the human mind. Using projection to Antonio, one may pose that his fierce rejection of bear downing involvement may be brooding of his unrecognised negative feelings about being the changeless beginning of loans to his friends or of his ain desire to bear down them involvements. Within the context of psychological projection, Shylock is stating that the immorality that non-Jews see among the Jews is a contemplation of their ain inner immoralities.

In Act 2, Scene 2, Shakespeare uses Launcelot ‘s soliloquy to demo that the stigma of being a Jew rubs off on their associate and therefore aggravates their disaffection in society. The soliloquy besides contains a concealed unfavorable judgment of public sentiment. Launcelot finds himself conflicted between following the voice of his scruples, which tells him to remain with his maestro, Shylock, and the voice of the monster ( or Satan ) , which tells him to abandon his maestro. If scruples is the voice of God, and the witting ideas is the voice of the universe ; so Shakespeare was besides giving his sentiment about the Jew issue when he made Launcelot make up one’s mind to abandon Shylock.

In Act 2, Scene 3, Shakespeare presents Shylock ‘s girl, Jessica ‘s ain struggle. She is ashamed of her male parent ‘s vigorish. She looks frontward to change overing in order to get married Lorenzo and arranges to run off with Lorenzo. Conversion and matrimony for the immature female Jew are manners of flight. In England nevertheless, ordinances prohibit matrimony and sexual intercourse between Christians and Jew. Marriage if any stipulations transition. However, transition does non precondition an internal credence of religion.

In Act 2, Scene 5, Shakespeare hints on the changeless dangers that Jew face when Shylock gives Jessica safety instructions such locking up, and of shuting the Windowss. Launcelot ‘s claim that Shylock starves him contradicts with Shylock ‘s appraisal that Launcelot chows and slumbers at batch. Shylock ‘s mention to Launcelot is kinder than Launcelot ‘s description of Shylock. One wonders if Shakespeare is stating his readers that there are three sides of the coin.

The reader brushs Shylock once more in Act 3, Scene 1 when he receives new that Antonio ‘s ships sunk. When Solarino asked if Shylock intends to roll up his “ lb of flesh, ” the reader discovers an embittered adult male purpose on retaliation for the hurting the universe has caused him. Shylock delivers the celebrated “ Hath non a Hebrew… ” lines. Shakespeare takes the humanistic position on the Jew issue and speaks in their defence through Shylock. The “ Hath non a Hebrew… ” soliloquy reflects the coevalss of persecution and favoritism the Jews have undergone. Hate breed hatred merely as love strains love.

In the same scene, the reader learns that Jessica helped herself to her male parent ‘s jewellery and hard currency before run offing. Shylock is paying people to happen her. It is nevertheless ill-defined if Shylocks wants to happen Jessica because of the jewellery and money she took or because he is concerned about her. Shylock was greatly disheartened to larn that Jessica had pawned a pealing his married woman, Leah, had given to him. Shylock says he would “ non hold given it for a wilderness of monkeys ” ( MV, III, I, 103 ) . Although materialistic, Shylocks has his ain values and pull boundaries between acceptable and unacceptable. Angered, among others, by Jessica ‘s treachery, Shylock saw Antonio ‘s fiscal lost as an chance for retaliation, non peculiarly for Antonio ‘s actions but for the beastliness of the universe to him for being a Jew. Antonio became the flight caprine animal. Shylock confirms that he would take a piece of Antonio ‘s blood and benefit from Antonio ‘s absence in Venice. From Jessica in Act 3 Scene 2, the readers learn that Shylock would instead hold Antonio ‘s flesh than 20 times the sum of the loan.

In Act 3, Scene 3, the readers discovers that Shylock had profoundly hurt when Antonio judged him without cause. Shylock says, “ Thou calledst me dog before thou hadst a cause. But since I am a Canis familiaris, mind my Fangs ” ( III, three, 7 ) , which is the ground Antonio became the “ flight caprine animal. ” Shylock demands his lb of Antonio ‘s flesh and rejects Bassanio ‘s offer to pay twice the sum of the loan. Portia, disguised as legal expert, intervenes and saves Antonio by demoing the tribunal that although Shylock could lawfully acquire his lb of flesh ; he is non entitled to blood or anything beyond the lb. In Article 4, Scene 1, Portia besides shows that Shylock is guilty of plotting to kill a citizen of Venice and under the jurisprudence owes the intended victim compensation. Shylock ‘s sentence is to lose half of his estate to the province while the other half goes to Antonio. Shylock is resigned and replies, “ Nay, take my life and all. Pardon non that. You take my house when you do take the prop that doth sustain my house. You take my life when you do take the agencies whereby I live ” ( IV, I, 366-369 ) . With those brief lines, Shakespeare summarized the Judaic issue in England. By forbiding the Jews from money loaning, the province besides took away their support. In history, revenue enhancement and arrogation of belongingss aggravated the Judaic status.

Antonio pleads in behalf of Shylock and requests the tribunal to put aside the mulct for one-half of Shylock ‘s belongings on the status that Shylock converts to a Christian, and wills his belongingss to his son-in-law, Lorenzo, and girl upon his decease. Antonio would besides give his half to Lorenzo ( MV, IV, I, 375 ) . In back uping Lorenzo ‘s brotherhood with Jessica, Shakespeare through Antonio is besides back uping the impression of racial integrating. Readers may see Antonio ‘s supplication in favour of Shylock as both an illustration of Christian compassion and of his consciousness that his stiff moralization based could besides be barbarous. Antonio is rich, and has many friends. He hence is a theoretical account. Yet, he entirely became the focal point of Shylock ‘s hate.

Weinstein explains that within the Judaic context, the word “ usury ” does non connote automatically interpret to exorbitant involvements. Weinstein claims that Shakespeare inadvertently makes Shylock perpetrate four misdemeanors of scriptural and Talmudic Torahs. It reflects Shakespeare ‘s strangeness with Judaic traditions. These misdemeanors are the instructions about money loaning, on the pickings of life, on justness and goodness, and on clemency. First, Scriptures, such as Ezekiel 22:24, Deuteronomy 15:2 and 24:10 provide guidelines for imparting money and do a differentiation between imparting money to fellow Jews and aliens. Second, the Six Commandment prohibits the pickings of life. Third, Micah instructs the Jews to “ make justness, and to love clemency, and to walk meekly with your God ” ( Mic. 4:8 ) . Fourth, the Talmud dictates “ He who is merciful to others, clemency is shown to him by Heaven, while he who is non merciful to others, clemency is non shown to him by Heaven ” ( Shabbath 151b, Makkoth 24a ) . Therefore, there is a demand for readers to distinguish between Shylock the Jew and Shylock the person. However, how could an audience ignorant of Judaic traditions differentiate?


The Merchant of Venice is a comedy but modern-day readers would non likely agree. Although the drama seems to transport anti-semitic subjects, a closer reappraisal shows that Shakespeare had integrated some really critical sentiments within it. Some sentiments are good concealed. Through Shylock, Shakespeare similarly gave a voice to the Jews and raised issues impacting them. Although Shakespeare did non accurately portray the intervention of the Jews in England, and gave them more freedom than they really had, he was able to capture their favoritism and disaffection in society. Shylock is complex character, an person pushed by personal and societal conditions to detest.