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AL19 Shakespeare’s Shylock

It continues to be taken for granted that The Merchant of Venice is an antisemitic play. Shakespeare, we commonly hear, had imbibed the casual antisemitism of his time, and without questioning it used it to shape the character of his famous money-lender, Shylock. This he did so successfully—the account continues—that the portrayal of Shylock crystallizes in one figure a whole line of antisemitism and thus becomes a model for antisemitism itself. Still today you see the word Shylock everywhere, where once you might have seen the word Pharisee. It has almost attained the status of the small ’s,’ a type or trope: the contractual, bloodthirsty, grasping miser: the antisemite’s Jew. Interestingly, though, none of this has sunk the reputation of the play. We perform it, attend it, read it, teach it, study it, and we enjoy it. Is this because we love the other characters and put up with Shylock for their sake? Or is it because we sense that there’s more to Shylock. This course will examine every aspect of the play. We will consider its historical context but will spend the bulk of our time on the text itself: its carefully constructed plot, the motivations of its characters, its biblical references, and its theological-political implications.Our goal is to weigh the common assumption that the play is antisemitic against the argument made by Jacques Derrida, that the charge of antisemitism is scandalous, and that what the play actually does is to stage, “with an unequalled power all the great motives of Christian anti-Judaism.”

Course Specifications
Type: Elective
Lesson type: Lecture
Hours: 28 (5 credits)
Requirement: essay
Instructor: TBA
Course Readings1
Eisenstadt, PDF files (Ashkenazium, 2024)