Shakespeare is Shylock: Letters of Credit in The Merchant of Venice

Stewart Alan

in Shakespeare's Letters

Published in print November 2008 | ISBN: 9780199549276
Published online October 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780191701504 | DOI:
Shakespeare is Shylock: Letters of Credit in The Merchant of Venice

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This chapter explores how an understanding of credit might be brought to bear on one of William Shakespeare's most misunderstood plays, The Merchant of Venice. The ‘pound of flesh’ bond story, has come, through its compelling portrayal of the Jew Shylock, to dominate the play. Shylock is the star part, and the play's treatment of Jews, anti-Jewish prejudice, and toleration is usually held up as its most significant feature, focusing critical attention on Shylock-related topics: usury and the law. Inspired by the onstage court scene, the play's longest, critics have interpreted Shylock's battle with Balthasar/Portia as relating to different legal systems, Shylock's contractual literalism versus Portia's merciful equity, a legal battle that is then mapped onto the play's pitting of (Jewish) usury versus (Christian) charity. In truth, the play presents a far more complex understanding of the interactions between finance and the law, and between various different monetary dealings of the early modern world.

Keywords: credit; William Shakespeare; plays; Jews; Shylock; usury; law; Balthasar; Portia

Chapter.  12488 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Shakespeare Studies and Criticism

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