- Shakespeare, William
- (1564–1616)English playwright and poet. Shakespeare made a Jew a leading character in one of his plays, The Merchant of Venice, which was produced in 1597– 8. This may have been prompted by the success of Marlowe’s Jew of Malta. The Jew in both plays is a stereotyped, dark, gesticulating moneylender. Although Shylock was created by a greater humanist than Marlowe’s Jew, it is evident that the audience was meant to feel horror at his insistence that the bond of a pound of flesh must be redeemed and to be delighted at his fall at the hands of Portia, legalism defeated by even greater legalism. Since the Romantic era there has been a tendency to see Shylock as a tragic figure, but there is no doubt that he was intended to inspire both ridicule and hatred. It is very unlikely that Shakespeare knew any Jews, but he was probably inspired by the trial of Dr LOPEZ, Queen Elizabeth’s Marrano physician, who was accused of attempting to poison the queen and hanged at Tyburn in 1594. This incident did much to revive popular hatred of the Jews. Curiously enough, in the Merchant of Venice Shylock’s daughter, Jessica, is presented as beautiful and intelligent and eager to leave her father for her Christian lover. These two stereotypes have tended to persist in English literature. The Merchant of Venice has been translated into Hebrew and performed in Israel, as have many other plays by Shakespeare. From the 18908 many of his plays were also adapted and translated into Yiddish. ‘Shylock’ and ‘pound of flesh’ have become common derogatory phrases in the English language, employed by many who have no knowledge of their literary origin but are aware of their anti-Jewish undertones.
Who’s Who in Jewish History after the period of the Old Testament. Joan Comay . 2012.