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Shakespear and the Jews

By: Gad Nahshon

Was Shakespeare anti- Semitic? Many books and articles have been written on this issue. Who did not hear about "Skylock"?

James Shapiro, professor of English and Comparative Literature, decided to answer this question. The outcome is an illuminated study of the Elizabethan England's fantasy about "the Jew". Shakespeare's image turned out to follow the trajectory sketched by his time and his place in history. Shapiro, using diaries, travel narratives, sermons, political tracts, and parliamentary debates demonstrated in his superb study how cultural images can and do metamorphose into figures such as Skylock.

The book discussed the status of the Jew and Jewishness and then demonstrated that Shakespeare was a product of his time. His attitude to Jews reflected the common British belief. And his contemporaries believed that Jews liked to circumcise little Christian children. This "criminality of the Jews" also meant blood libel. They believed that Jews need gentile blood.

Shapiro also claimed that Shakespeare never discussed anywhere the Jewish issue. We do not know what he thought of the Jews.


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