enotes | Student

Shakespeare (probably born a Catholic but converted to the Protestant Church of England during Elizabeth I's reign) was a Christian who presented a highly unattractive Jewish character in the infamous Shylock of The Merchant of Venice. The greedy Shylock embodies the negative traits associated by Elizabethan audiences with Jews. Since there were very few Jews living in England during Shakespeare's Age, the negative attitudes of his fellow Elizabethans came to them through the Church and the theater, the latter including Morality and Passion plays in which the Jews are epitomized in the person of the betrayer Judas and in league with Satan. Nonetheless, Shakespeare freely encourages the marriage of Shylock's daughter, Jessica, to a Christian youth (albeit after her voluntary conversion). Shakespeare, then, is no more anti-Semitic than his contemporaries and by no means an anti-Semite in the modern sense of that term.

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