Shakespeare’s ‘Letter to the Romans’: ‘Anti-Judaism’ (Not ‘Anti-Semitism’) in The Merchant of Venice

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Although The Merchant of Venice is today often perceived as “anti-Semitic”, a careful consideration of both the play and the label suggests that this is not so. Rather, Shakespeare’s play dramatizes both a critique of “legalistic Judaism” similar to the one made by Paul (who arguably lived and died a Jew) in his “Letter to the Romans” and an exaltation of “graceful Christianity”. As such, The Merchant of Venice can be properly understood as the “anti-Judaic comedy of Antonio” rather than as the “anti-Semitic tragedy of Shylock”.


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GIVEN: OCTOBER 2006