This year marks the 400th anniversary of the death of English playwright and poet, William Shakespeare (1564–1616).
In honor of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s passing, I am re-posting a post I wrote for Book Riot on August 4, 2015, in which I discuss one of the many mysteries that surround Shakespeare as a person and as a writer.
William Shakespeare and the Jews
If you ask me, the William Shakespeare character that stands out the most is Shylock, the Jewish moneylender in The Merchant of Venice. The character of Shylock is controversial in many ways and has been debated frequently over the years. Is Shylock an anti-Semitic portrayal of a Jew? If so, does that mean that we have to stop reading and producing the play?
In my view, Shylock is a thoroughly problematic character. But my interest in Shylock is not so much whether or not the portrayal of him is anti-Semitic. To me that is a moot point. Hatred and prejudice against Jews was prevalent during Shakespeare’s lifetime, and Shakespeare himself was by no means unaffected by this. What interests me about Shylock is the fact that the character exists at all.
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In the words of my friend, the Australian, I shall return.