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The Merchant of Venice and Anti-Sematic Themes

The Merchant of Venice and Anti-Sematic Themes

It is interesting how social norms change over time. The Merchant of Venice was written in either 1596 or 1597. The audience of that era had a different set of social standards that we do toady. During the period in which Shakespeare writes the play, it was common for the Jew to be looked down upon. There is no proof that Shakespeare was an anti-Semite, however, he was just writing something to create humor. The humor and actions that take place in this play are construed much differently than 400 years ago.


In the play the villain is a man named Shylock the Jew. He lives in Venice, Italy and works as what in the modern day would be a loan shark. There are many references to Shylock being persecuted for his religion. Shylock and Antonio (the protagonist) become enemies and Shylock says to Antonio, “You call me misbeliever, cutthroat dog, and spet upon my Jewish gabardine” (Shakespeare 35). This is just one example of the actions that occurred during that time. However, this play is supposed to be a comedy. It qualifies as a comedy solely because there are many jokes about Jews and in the end the only person who loses is the Jew. In some cases in the play characters go as far as to say that “Certainly the Jew is the very devil incarnation” (Shakespeare 47). In the play there definitely is a sense of anti-Semitism. However the play produced by the People’s Light Theatre really enhanced the fact that Shakespeare was writing about a hatred of the Jews. Though, there is an underlying story completely, a main focus of the production was to make the audience understand how low the Jew was viewed compared to everything else.


There are multiple examples of anti-Semitism in the play. Though, as we now live in different times, people are all supposedly accepted as equals. If one were to see the play or read the text in the time is was written, many of the jokes would be humorous. Now that we have a higher standard of morals, people are less likely to accept the humor/insult to Shylock the Jew.

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