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TOPIC: Shylock and Shakespeare's Dad

Shylock and Shakespeare's Dad 10 years 3 months ago #74

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When Shakespeare was a child, his father (John) was taken to court and had to pay a fine for money lending. (He had leant 100 pounds at 20 percent interest - and made a whopping 20 pounds profit: Remember, you could buy a good house for 50 pounds in those days. The fine was only 40 shillings - that still left Mr John S. with 18 pounds profit. That is usury to the uninformed.)

Shylock is a money lender.

The arguement is frequently made that, because Shylock lends money, he is un-Christian and bad: The reality of the times was frequent (if not essential) use of money lenders: Is Shakespeare's play really condemning Shylock for money lending?

In the London of his day, Shakespeare must have been in daily contact with merchants and money lenders (most would have been English and Christian, like his father - some could have been Jewish) - what were they saying?

Because something is offically 'illegal' it doesn't mean people don't do it - one only had to leave the door of The Globe to bump into a prostitute (in fact, you didn't even need to leave the theatre but there might be delicate minds reading this and I don't want to upset them).

Shakespeare's father was also an elected member of his town council - an alderman - and this made him a Magistrate - someone handing out justice.

And a further law case against John Shakespeare involves him buying and selling wool illegaly. So he was a Merchant too. (And made an awful lot of money at it.)

Makes me think how positive a character Antonio really is - and how negative is Shylock?

Could there be a lot of Shakespeare's dad in the old Jew?
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Shylock and Shakespeare's Dad 9 years 3 months ago #1305

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We have our share of un-christian money lenders nowadays as well. It's not always like in the play, sometimes they take your money promising they will facilitate a larger loan and then they just disappear. I was just reading an article on this issue the other day, about a guy in India that wanted to make a loan all the way in Nigeria and they had asked him to pay $500 so that he could get 12000. Obviously, he got scammed.
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Shylock and Shakespeare's Dad 9 years 3 months ago #1307

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Interesting point - is Shylock behaving like these 'scam' merchants?
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Shylock and Shakespeare's Dad 9 years 3 months ago #1308

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Mere lending of money is not Shylock's sin. If, in Elizabethan England, you wanted to lend your buddy a few quid for, say, a new hat, there's nothing wrong with that. The problem is that he is a professional moneylender, that is, he makes his living by lending money and charging interest for it, a sin known as usury. The theory of the time - and it is discussed in the play - is that money is inherently barren, that is, there is no way for it to multiply and so charging interest is dishonest if not unnatural. For this reason, Christians were not allowed to be usurers, at their own soul's peril. Jews and other nonchristians, however, were free to be moneylenders because, as far as the Christian establishment was concerned, they were already damned. In fact, since nonchristians were mostly banned from other professions, moneylending was one of the few jobs a Jew was fit for in Europe.

What's more, just because there may have been Christian moneylenders doesn't mean it was considered a Christian profession. You mention that John Shakespeare engaged in illegal trades: surely breaking the law and selling stolen goods is "unchristian" behavior, no? Consider this: when laws in England were changed and Christians were newly allowed to charge a small interest on loans, the practice was still looked down upon, and those Christian moneylenders that charged interest were reviled and called - what else? - "Jews."
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Shylock and Shakespeare's Dad 9 years 3 months ago #1322

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Christians were not allowed to be usurers: Sorry, just plain untrue.
You seem a little stuck in some old ideas about what the Elizabethans 'thought' and how they behaved. The reality of the times is very different from supposed historical facts based on the laws.
There were thriving Jewish and black communities in London - and Muslims too.
London was full of 'Christian' moneylenders - helping to finance the growing merchant trade.
Shylock's sin is not the interest he charges - it is the price of the forfeit for failing to pay back the money.
The supposed antisemitism of the play is more the result of Romantic interpretations and bad history, than analysis of the text.
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Shylock and Shakespeare's Dad 9 years 3 months ago #1328

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Sorry for my misuse of the term "allowed." Christians were not allowed to be moneylenders like Catholics are not allowed to commit suicide. Christian moneylenders were spat at and called "Jews." True, Shylock's sin in the play is the price of the forfeit for failing to pay back the money. Notwithstanding the play begins with the characters holding him in disdain for his profession and - it's fairly bald in the text, considering one wouldn't know he had a name other than "Jew" if not for the headings to his lines - his cultural identity.
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Shylock and Shakespeare's Dad 9 years 3 months ago #1329

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mbarbot wrote:
...it's fairly bald in the text, considering one wouldn't know he had a name other than "Jew" if not for the headings to his lines - his cultural identity.

... Shylock's name is mentioned some 18 or so times - "jew" or "jewish" is used about three times as often.
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Shylock and Shakespeare's Dad 9 years 3 months ago #1330

  • Matthew Barbot
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^ My point exactly. I didn't have the numbers on me this morning, but I do now: while his name is used 18 times, and the word Jew and words associated with it (Jewess, Hebrew, etc.) are used 74 times. It's clear that Shakespeare found Shylock's cultural identity, and the things all the other characters say about it, important. Allegations of antisemitism in the Merchant of Venice do not come from history, but from the text itself; the history is just used to explain it.

I don't mean to suggest that The Merchant of Venice is a play about antisemitism, any more than Hattie McDaniel movies and Westerns with dumb, savage Indians are about racism. Racism is part of the setting.
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