Since middle school, I have believed that all of Shakespeare’s works, similar to A Mid Summer Night’s Dream, were plays that one would read to hear a happy, entertaining story; but, it was not until this year, after reading The Merchant of Venice, that I recognized the darker, more sinister, side of Shakespeare’s plays. The Merchant of Venice supports the Jewish, anti-Semitic stereotype as the wicked character of Shylock is developed. Many individuals fear that it is improper to teach and discuss The Merchant of Venice in high school classrooms because of the negative way it presents Jews; however, I believe that it is important to read this controversial play in high schools because it enables students to learn anti-Semitic history and because reading Shakespeare’s works, due to their complexity, expands the literary mind of those who read it.
It is so important for people to recognize how Jews were portrayed during Shakespeare’s life so that historic events such as the holocaust do not repeat themselves. Teachers who plan on presenting their students with The Merchant of Venice should also present them with articles explaining how Jews received their negative stereotype and explain to them that Jews are not as evil as Shylock. The play can still be useful as a high school reading experience only if taught correctly, in a manner that avoids Jews being insulted and non-Jews getting a completely flawed idea about Jews. Although comedic during the 16th century, The Merchant of Venice can no longer be viewed as a comedy in the 21st century due to the diversity of people and general acceptance of their cultures throughout the United States.
Without proper instruction from teachers, non-Jewish students may begin to express hate towards Jews because of the negative way Shakespeare portrays Shylock. “Jewishness is one of his primary characteristics; he emphasizes it himself, and it is emphasized for him by everyone with whom he has dealings” (Gross 5). Many times in the play, such as when Lancelot asks Bassanio for work and states, “To be brief, the very truth is that the Jew having done me wrong…”, Shylock is referred to as a Jew and he and other characters have lines that reflect the Jewish stereotype that originated in the late 13th century when Jews were expelled from England and the first crusade was launched (Lancelot II.ii.121). The Merchant of Venice can be a great experience for high school students if they recognize that “the Jew clearly did live on the edge of society and that in the role of the mysterious outsider, he was a perfect and ready-made scapegoat for anyone who wished to exploit him as such” (Clark 49).
The following quote reflects the wickedness in Shylock: “If you repay me not on such a day, / In such a place, such sum or sums are/ Expressed in the condition, let the forfeit/ Be nominated for an equal pound/ or your fair flesh, to be cut off and taken/ In what part of your body pleaseth me” (Shylock in Merchant...