How is Shakespeare anti-Semitic?  

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

To explain—but never excuse—Shakespeare, it's important to understand that anti-semitism was common in Europe from well before his time up through the early part of the 20th century. That said, the most famous portrayal of anti-semitism in Shakespeare is the money-lender Shylock in The Merchant of Venice. Antonio, a protagonist, illustrates Renaissance anti-semitism when he spits on Shylock. Further, Shakespeare portrays Shylock as money-hungry and unforgiving, once common stereotypes of the Jewish people. Shylock famously demands a pound of flesh in repayment of a loan, insisting on it even after he is offered a repayment amount of twice the loan. Shakespeare depicts this lack of mercy as Jewish (in those day cutting a pound of flesh could easily have been a death sentence, given the state of medicine). This stubbornness on Shylock's part leads to another famous line from the play: "the quality of mercy is not strained," with mercy depicted as a quality associated with the "superior" Christian faith.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial Team