Necessary Villain of The Merchant of Venice or

Evidence of Shakespeare's Anti-Semitism?

There is substantial argument among critics regarding Shylock, Shakespeare's Jew in The Merchant of Venice. Some argue that the character is the representative of villainy in the extreme because he is a Jew; others argue that he lacks values, and therefore is a villain who happens to be a Jew; and still others argue that the play is anti-Semitic and Shylock is written as a villain because Shakespeare was anti-Semitic. While the play does have some anti-Semitic tones that cannot be ignored, it is first and foremost a romantic comedy and fits the typical structure as such. Additionally, if the play were to be considered anti-Semitic, then it must also be considered as anti-Christian, since the Christian characters embody anything but ideal Christian values. A consideration of the views of the critics and a comparison of the characters will show that the role Shylock plays is that of the necessary villain who is the antagonist and antithesis of the other characters' values for the sake of contrast in the play, rather than an illustration of Shakespeare's anti-Semitic views.

copyright 1998.