Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder

06 Mar 2005, 22:38 p.m.

More On Usury, & Eric And Dylan As Shylocks

Hi, reader. I wrote this in 2005 and it's now more than five years old. So it may be very out of date; the world, and I, have changed a lot since I wrote it! I'm keeping this up for historical archive purposes, but the me of today may 100% disagree with what I said then. I rarely edit posts after publishing them, but if I do, I usually leave a note in italics to mark the edit and the reason. If this post is particularly offensive or breaches someone's privacy, please contact me.

I have not yet seen the new Merchant of Venice movie. While considering watching it, I came across an essay on Shylock.

....The Magna Carta, the basis for English constitutional law, is itself a testament to the growing unpopularity of Jewish money-lending activities. Two clauses in the 1215 document state that if a debtor dies before his debt is paid, neither his heir nor his widow will be responsible for repaying the debt....

In Shylock's final scene, Shakespeare had him act out another stereotype: a ritual murder. Of course, there is no mention in the play that Shylock would use Antonio's blood in any religious ritual. But the audience would have immediately associated the stage action with the myth. Shakespeare seemed to be giving his audience exactly what they expect from a stage Jew. In Portia, the audience got the means to stop the ritual murder because she would not let the Jew shed one drop of Christian blood. The text specifically says "Christian," reinforcing the "blood libel" legends....