But I found him nowhere on the Rialto, and I determined to seek my old acquaintance in the Synagogue. The Jews were just then celebrating their Day of Atonement, and they stood enveloped in their white talars, with uncanny motions of the head, looking almost like an assemblage of ghosts.
There the poor Jews had stood, fasting and praying, from earliest morning; - since the evening before they had taken neither food nor drink, and had previously begged pardon of all their acquaintances for any wrong they might have done them in the course of the year, that God might thereby also forgive them their wrongs - a beautiful custom, which, curiously enough, is found among this people, strangers though they be to the teaching of Christ.
And yet I felt he must be hidden under one of those white talars, praying more fervently than his fellow-believers, looking up with stormy, nay frantic wildness, to the throne of Jehovah, the hard God-King.
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I saw him not. But towards evening, when, according to the Jewish faith, the gates of Heaven are shut, and no prayer can then obtain admittance, I heard a voice, with a ripple of tears that were never wept by eyes. It was a sob that could only come from a breast that held in it all the martyrdom which, for eighteen centuries, had been borne by a whole tortured people.
It was the death-rattle of a soul sinking down dead tired at heaven's gates. And I seemed to know the voice, and I felt that I had heard it long ago, when, in utter despair, it moaned out, then as now, 'Jessica, my girl! This is the cry that went up from Egypt, from the Roman amphitheatre, from the dungeons of the Spanish Inquisition. We hear its echo all through the Dark Ages; and the genius of Shakespeare voiced it as it had never been voiced before - or since. Shylock is a man more sinned against than sinning, whom the inhumanity of the whole world has made inhuman.
Long brooding over the shameful treatment of his people has marred his character and dried up the founts of tenderness in his bosom. Occupying middle ground between these two extremes is the interpretation which regards Shylock as essentially the conventional avaricious, bloodthirsty Jew, a neighbour and near bred to Marlowe's monster, the Jew of Malta , but humanized by what Boas has called Shakespeare's 'almost superhuman, plastic power' - humanized sufficiently to win for him, in certain scenes especially, a measure - a large measure it may be - of the reader's sympathy, but not enough to justify the interpretation given above, which makes Shylock and not Antonio the hero of the play.
This interpretation, as given in Ward's History of English Dramatic Literature ,  is as follows, " It is, I am convinced, only modern readers and modern actors who suppose that Shakespeare consciously intended to arouse the sympathy of his audience in behalf of the Jew. The sympathy which, notwithstanding, is aroused, is in truth merely the adventitious result of the unconscious tact with which the poet humanized the character.
In both Shakespeare's and Marlowe's plays the view inculcated is, that on the part of a Jew fraud is the sign of his tribe, whereas on the part of Christians counter-fraud, though accompanied by violence, is worthy of commendation. This I cannot but regard as the primary effect of the whole of either play. The psychological distinction in the conception of the two principal characters lies, not in the nature of the elements out of which they are compounded - avarice, cruelty, revengefulness, with no softening element but that of paternal love, and this only till it is quenched in the sense of a daughter's desertion - but in the way in which these elements are combined.
The art of Shakespeare is immeasurably superior to that of Marlowe in not allowing either avarice or lust of vengeance to attain to such a pitch in his Jew as to take the character out of the range of human nature. At Belmont, Portia and Nerissa taunt and pretend to accuse their husbands before revealing they were really the lawyer and his clerk in disguise V.
After all the other characters make amends, Antonio learns from Portia that three of his ships were not stranded and have returned safely after all. The forfeit of a merchant's deadly bond after standing surety for a friend's loan was a common tale in England in the late 16th century. The date of composition for The Merchant of Venice is believed to be between and The play was mentioned by Francis Meres in , so it must have been familiar on the stage by that date. The title page of the first edition in states that it had been performed "divers times" by that date.
Salerino's reference to his ship the Andrew I,i,27 is thought to be an allusion to the Spanish ship St. A date of —97 is considered consistent with the play's style. The play was entered in the Register of the Stationers Company , the method at that time of obtaining copyright for a new play, by James Roberts on 22 July under the title The Merchant of Venice , otherwise called The Jew of Venice.
On 28 October Roberts transferred his right to the play to the stationer Thomas Heyes ; Heyes published the first quarto before the end of the year. It was printed again in a pirated edition in , as part of William Jaggard's so-called False Folio. Afterward, Thomas Heyes' son and heir Laurence Heyes asked for and was granted a confirmation of his right to the play, on 8 July The edition is generally regarded as being accurate and reliable. It is the basis of the text published in the First Folio , which adds a number of stage directions, mainly musical cues.
The play is frequently staged today, but is potentially troubling to modern audiences due to its central themes, which can easily appear antisemitic. Critics today still continue to argue over the play's stance on the Jews and Judaism. English society in the Elizabethan era has been described as "judeophobic". In Venice and in some other places, Jews were required to wear a red hat at all times in public to make sure that they were easily identified, and had to live in a ghetto protected by Christian guards.
They were usually characterised as evil, deceitful and greedy. Shakespeare's play may be seen as a continuation of this tradition. One interpretation of the play's structure is that Shakespeare meant to contrast the mercy of the main Christian characters with the vengefulness of a Jew, who lacks the religious grace to comprehend mercy. Similarly, it is possible that Shakespeare meant Shylock's forced conversion to Christianity to be a " happy ending " for the character, as, to a Christian audience, it saves his soul and allows him to enter Heaven.
A pound of flesh
Regardless of what Shakespeare's authorial intent may have been, the play has been made use of by antisemites throughout the play's history. One must note that the end of the title in the edition "With the Extreme Cruelty of Shylock the Jew The Nazis used the usurious Shylock for their propaganda. Shortly after Kristallnacht in , The Merchant of Venice was broadcast for propagandistic ends over the German airwaves. In a series of articles called Observer , first published in , British playwright Richard Cumberland created a character named Abraham Abrahams who is quoted as saying, "I verily believe the odious character of Shylock has brought little less persecution upon us, poor scattered sons of Abraham , than the Inquisition itself.
This was the first known attempt by a dramatist to reverse the negative stereotype that Shylock personified. The depiction of Jews in literature throughout the centuries bears the close imprint of Shylock. With slight variations much of English literature up until the 20th century depicts the Jew as "a monied, cruel, lecherous, avaricious outsider tolerated only because of his golden hoard". Many modern readers and theatregoers have read the play as a plea for tolerance, noting that Shylock is a sympathetic character.
They cite as evidence that Shylock's "trial" at the end of the play is a mockery of justice, with Portia acting as a judge when she has no right to do so. The characters who berated Shylock for dishonesty resort to trickery in order to win. In addition, Shakespeare gives Shylock one of his most eloquent speeches:.
Why, I am sure, if he forfeit, thou wilt not take his flesh. What's that good for? To bait fish withal; if it will feed nothing else, it will feed my revenge. He hath disgraced me and hindered me half a million, laughed at my losses, mocked at my gains, scorned my nation, thwarted my bargains, cooled my friends, heated mine enemies — and what's his reason?
I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions; fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that.
If a Jew wrong a Christian, what is his humility? If a Christian wrong a Jew, what should his sufferance be by Christian example? The villainy you teach me, I will execute, and it shall go hard but I will better the instruction. It is difficult to know whether the sympathetic reading of Shylock is entirely due to changing sensibilities among readers, or whether Shakespeare, a writer who created complex, multi-faceted characters, deliberately intended this reading.
One of the reasons for this interpretation is that Shylock's painful status in Venetian society is emphasised. To some critics, Shylock's celebrated "Hath not a Jew eyes?
Shylock - Wikipedia
Even if Shakespeare did not intend the play to be read this way, the fact that it retains its power on stage for audiences who may perceive its central conflicts in radically different terms is an illustration of the subtlety of Shakespeare's characterisations. The Christians in the courtroom urge Shylock to love his enemies, although they themselves have failed in the past. Jewish critic Harold Bloom suggests that, although the play gives merit to both cases, the portraits are not even-handed: Antonio's unexplained depression — "In sooth I know not why I am so sad" — and utter devotion to Bassanio has led some critics to theorise that he is suffering from unrequited love for Bassanio and is depressed because Bassanio is coming to an age where he will marry a woman.
In his plays and poetry Shakespeare often depicted strong male bonds of varying homosociality , which has led some critics to infer that Bassanio returns Antonio's affections despite his obligation to marry: Commend me to your honourable wife: Tell her the process of Antonio's end, Say how I lov'd you, speak me fair in death; And, when the tale is told, bid her be judge Whether Bassanio had not once a love. But life itself, my wife, and all the world Are not with me esteemed above thy life; I would lose all, ay, sacrifice them all Here to this devil, to deliver you.
Auden describes Antonio as "a man whose emotional life, though his conduct may be chaste, is concentrated upon a member of his own sex. Antonio's frustrated devotion is a form of idolatry: There is one other such idolator in the play: There was, states Auden, a traditional "association of sodomy with usury", reaching back at least as far as Dante , with which Shakespeare was likely familiar. Lucius Artorius Castus leads an expedition to Gaul to defeat a rebellion against the rule of the Emperor Commodus - and gets more than he bargained for when his enemies rise from the dead to fight again.
The power of the zombie horde is amplified by the Babel of Ancient Rome's religions and superstitions, and the terror the undead bring in their wake foreshadows the incipient medieval darkness already creeping into the world at the end of Rome's Antonine age.
Richly annotated, this mashup of survival horror and alternate history takes the reader on a bracing journey into one of ancient Rome's dark corners. A mysterious traveler, dressed in black, offers him the chance to avenge himself upon those who have wronged him, and to seize back all that they have taken. When Shylock agrees, they embark on a journey that takes them across Renaissance Italy and through the history of post-Humanist philosophy — and what they find is not what either of them expects.
As some of you may have seen by now, my latest release has gone live at Amazon and Barnes and Noble. It's ebook-only for the moment; the paperback should be available in a few days. In other words, I totally committed to the conceit that I was creating a sequel to Shakespeare's play.
If you hate EME or the play form, this might not be up your alley. In the universal library, no book will be an island.