Shylock and the Jewish Question

Martin Yaffe, Shylock and the Jewish Question (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997)

Summary from the Publisher:

Much attention has been paid to the place of Shylock in the history of anti-Semitism. Most scholars have agreed with Harold Bloom that Shakespeare’s famous villain is drawn with a “murderous anti-Semitism” and that Shakespeare uncritically mirrors the rife anti-Semitism of his times. While others see only gross caricature in The Merchant of Venice, however, Martin Yaffe finds a subtle analysis of the Jew’s place in a largely Christian society.

In Shylock and the Jewish Question, Yaffe challenges the widespread assumption that Shakespeare is, in the final analysis, unfriendly to Jews. He finds that Shakespeare’s consideration of Judaism in The Merchant of Venice provides an important contrast to Marlowe’s virulent The Jew of Malta. In many ways, he argues, Shakespeare’s play is even more accepting than Francis Bacon’s notably inclusive New Atlantis or the Jewish philosopher Benedict Spinoza’s argument for tolerance in the Theologico-Political Treatise.

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