DIVISION D: THE HEBREW LANGUAGES AND LANGUAGES OF THE JEWS, JEWISH FOLKLORE AND ART / חטיבה ד: הלשון העברית ולשונות היהודים, פולקלור ואמנות‎ || כתב ההתקשרות של שיילוק — הערכה מחודשת / SHYLOCK'S BOND RE-EVALUATED

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    /SHYLOCK'S BOND RE-EVALUATEDAuthor(s): JEAN JOFEN, ELISHEVA CARLEBACH, ' and Source: Proceedings of the World Congress of Jewish Studies / ,DIVISION D: THE HEBREW LANGUAGES AND LANGUAGES OF THE JEWS ,, JEWISH FOLKLORE AND ART / : , pp. 91-96 " / 1981Published by: World Union of Jewish Studies / Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/23528733 .Accessed: 19/06/2014 02:31

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    Every Jew and every sympathizer of Jews has had a feel

    ing of shame and anger that a Jew was portrayed by

    Shakespeare as demanding a pound of flesh from a

    Christian as penalty for non-payment of a debt. It is

    impossible to motivate this bond to a point where it could be made palatable or credible. Historically, we know that there was no law of this kind in Venice. If a Jew had tried to hurt a Christian physically, or

    attempted to kill him the whole Jewish community not

    only of Venice but of all of Italy, would have been

    expelled and in Shakespeare's play The Merchant of

    Venice the Jews would have pleaded with Shyloclc not to

    go ahead with such a dangerous plan. Since this does not occur in the play, we must try to analyze the bond

    and its conditions in a different light.

    England's religious controversy at the time of

    Shakespeare had nothing to do with Jews. Jews were

    expelled in 1290 and did not return to England till about 1690. The few Marrano Jews (Spanish converts to

    Christianity) who lived in England at the time did not

    play any major role in the religious struggle of the

    Anglican Church. We know, however, that there were

    many attempts by the Catholics to kill Queen Elizabeth

    (f.e. the Babington conspiracy) and to put the Catholic

    Mary Stuart on the throne. Henry the VIII had broken

    with the Pope when the Pope refused to grant him an

    annulment from Katherine of Aragon to marry Ann Boleyn, the mother of Elizabeth. Henry the VIII founded the

    Anglican Church and the Pope was regarded as the great est enemy of Queen Elizabeth and the Anglican Church.

    Elizabeth prosecuted Catholics and all those who did

    not follow the precepts of the Anglican Church. Pursu

    ivants were scouring the country ferreting out relig ious deviants.


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    The religious inquisition had its own court, the dreaded Star Chamber headed by the Archbishop of Cante

    rbury, since the Bishops appointed by the Queen took over the power of the Pope.

    The Pope retaliated by stirring up rebellion in Ireland and sending Jesuit Priests to England to help Catholics

    secretly say mass, which was forbidden and to help them

    perform other religious rites.

    The Pope was seen as the enemy of the Queen and was

    openly attacked by Christopher Marlowe in his plays Doctor Faustus and Massacre at Paris. Since both these

    plays were not published while Marlowe was alive only posthumously these attacks could occur overtly.

    Shakespeare was very careful that the religious contro

    versy which appears in his plays should be presented in a hidden fahsion since he attacks not only the Pope but also the Bishops appointed by Queen Elizabeth, an act which could result in immediate death.(1)

    We will show that the bond in The Merchant of Venice is a covert attack on the Pope.

    In the play we are told that Bassanio wants to court

    Portia but has no money. He turns to Shylock, the Jew, to borrow 3,000 ducats for three months. This was

    quite a large sum of money since ducats were gold

    coins. The Venetian war was waged with 15,000 ducats.

    (2) Bassanio assures Shylock that his friend Antonio would guarantee the loan. Shylock is aware of the fact

    that Antonios possessions are on the high seas, his

    ships are bound for Tripoli, the Indies, Mexico and

    England. Shylock also knows that these ships are exposed to the perils of weather and pirates and yet he is willing to take Antonio's bond. Antonio tells

    Shylock that he himself never lends or borrows but is breaking a custom to help his friend. Shylock then cites a case in the scriptures which deals not with direct interest but with indirect interest, e.g. the

    pact that Jacob made with Laban that since Laban did not pay Jacob any wages for tending his flock, Jacob

    would get all the ewes which were born streaked while the others would fall to Laban. Then Jacob cut a wand


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    which was streaked and placed it in the watering trough (Merchant of Venice I, iii, 77 compare also Genesis 30/31 ?1 and all the ewes born were "partly colored lambs".

    Antonio responds to Shylock's tale of indirect

    interest, that this was not interest at all but a

    contingency the outcome of which was not in the hand of Jacob but in the hand of heaven.

    Antonio: "This was a venture, sir, that Jacob serv'd for; A thing not in his power to bring to pass, But swayed and fashioned

    by the hand of heaven".

    (Merchant. I, iii, 92).

    They subsequently decide on a bond in which Shylock will lend Antonio 3,000 ducats for 3 months without

    any interest but at the end of the 3 months if the

    money is not repaid at that time Shylock would be entitled to

    " an equal pound

    Of your fair flesh to be cut off and taken In what part of your body pleases me".

    (Merchant. II, ii, 151)

    Antonio agrees to the condition since he expects the return of his boats, worth 3 times the value of the

    bond, in two months time. Even though this is a very cruel and unusual bond Antonio does not perceive it as

    such since he remarks:

    "Hi thee, gentle Jew. The Hebrew will turn

    Christian; he grows kind". To which Bassen io answers: "I like not fair terms and a

    villain's mind". (ibid. 187)

    This is a reference to the fact that Shylock who is a

    usurer has lent Antonio the money for 3 months without

    a penny interest

    Why should a Jewish moneylender lend a Christian money

    for 3 months without any interest?


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    The interest on 3,000 ducats for 3 months at 15$ would be 45 ducats a very large amount of money. If

    Shylock did it to be Antonio's friend then why would he exact such a severe punishment at the end? If he was his enemy then why did he not lend him the money for 3 months at the usual interest and if he did not

    pay at the end of that time take a pound of his flesh?

    What was the role of the Jewish money lenders and why

    did Jews become moneylenders? The Mosaic law: "Thou

    shalt not lend upon usury to thy brother". (Deut.

    23:19) had found its way into Canon Law. As the Jews were not subject to Canon Law the restriction thus

    imposed on Christians became a Jewish prerogative, since the Jews interpreted "to thy brother" as meaning only "to another Jew". Thus Jews were free to lend to

    Christians upon interest. Jews in the Orient were not

    money-lenders since taking interest was not forbidden

    according to Islam.(3) Pietro of Ancarano (1333-1416) had declared that Jews ought to be fully authorized to

    lend, on being asked by the ruler of Mantua whether he

    ought to compel Christians to repay debts contracted

    with the Jews, Alessandra Certagni of Imola (1424-77) argued, like the Brescians in the 1440's that the Jews were damned in any case, so that the Pope, by allowing

    them to lend upon usury, was not encouraging them to

    commit any mortal sin.(4)

    What was the status of the Jewish money-lenders and how

    much interest did they charge.(2)

    Antonio Grimani who became a Doge of Venice championed

    the Jews as did his relative Marino Sanuto. Notes from a speech which the latter made to present in the debate of 10 November 1519 to expel the Jews from Venice show their economic situation and their position as money lenders at that time as well as