The debate over Shakespeare’s opinion of Jews references many of the playwright’s works, but none more so that “Merchant of Venice,” the story in which the blood-hungry Jewish character (Shylock) is eventually outwitted by Portia – one of Shakespeare’s best known female characters.
The play shows Shylock to be an obstinate fool who cares more about his money than his daughter. And his daughter (Jessica) abandons Judaism with no remorse to join her Christian charmer (Lorenzo) in marriage.
On the other hand, the play also possess perhaps the most powerful refutation of anti-Semitism and Jewish degradation that the world had yet seen:
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? Revenge. If a Christian wrong a Jew, what should his sufferance be by Christian example? Why, revenge.
So how did Shakespeare really feel? I don’t have the answer (though I trend toward a positive outlook on Shakespeare), but I can point you to a great performance of The Merchant of Venice at The Shakespeare Theatre, located in Chinatown. The play runs until the 24th. If you are under 35, you can get young professional tickets the day of the performance for $15.