For this project, we chose to look at this passage from a liberal, modern lens. Since this is an Introductory to Shakespeare class, most college students today have trouble reading Shakespeare’s writing in this Quarto. With our footnotes and modernization of the text, we guided those without experience in reading Shakespeare to understand the criticism towards Merchant of Venice with its Christian anti-Semitism attitudes. Because Merchant of Venice is a comedy at the expense of the Jewish community, we chose to underline the lines that portray the anti-Semitism in Shakespeare’s writing. With a transcribed modern text, anti-Semitism is not as apparent as seen in Shakespeare’s writing; however, we chose to highlight the lines that have been previously overlooked without having prior knowledge of Judaism and its history. We did this by:
- Underlining the anti-Semitic, racist, and misogynistic aspects that modern readers may not have been able to grasp, as it was more normalized in the 1600s than today.
- Modernizing the text to help guide readers through the scene.
This scene has three characters: Lancelet, Jessica, and Lorenzo. Throughout the play, Lancelet, a servant and clown to Shylock, the Jewish character and “villain,” is introduced as “the clown.” We found that because he is a clown, the blatant anti-Semitic remarks he makes are allowed for the comedic aspect of the play. We wanted to show that with modern language these “comedic remarks” are insulting– and fail to uphold their comedic and literary significance towards the overall plot of the play.
that is but a kind of bastard hope neither.
Jessica: And what hope is that I pray thee?
Clown: Marry you may partly hope that your father got you not, that you are not the Jew's daughter.
Jessica: That were a kind of bastard hope indeed, so the sins of my mother1should be lifted upon me.
Clown: Truly then I fear you are damned both by father and mother: thus when I shun Scilla your father, I fall into Caribdus your mother well2, you are gone both ways.
Jessica: I shall be saved by my husband3, he has made me a Christian?
Clown: Truly the more to blame he, we were Christians now before, in as many as could we live one by another: this making of Christians will raise the prince of Hogs, if we grow all to be pork eaters4, we shall not shortly have a rather on the coals for money.
Jessi: I'll tell my husband Launcelet what you say, here he comes?
Loren: I shall grow jealous of you shortly Launcelet, if you thus get my wife into corners?
Jessica: No, you need not fear us Lorenzo, Launcelet, and I are out, he tells me flatly there's no mercy for me in heaven5, because I am a Jew's daughter6: and he says you are no good member of the common-wealth7, for in converting Jews to Christians, you raise the price of pork8.
Loren: I shall answer that better to the common-wealth than you can the getting up of the Negroes belly: the Moore is with child9 by you Launcelet?
Clown: It is much that the Moore should be more than reason: but if she is less than an honest woman, she is indeed more than I took her for.
Loren: How every fool can play upon the word, I think the belt grace of wit will shortly turn into silence, and discourse grow commendable in none only but Parrats: go in sirra, bid them prepare for dinner?
Clown: That is done sir, they have all stomachs?
Loren: Goodly Lord what a wit snapper are you, then bid them prepare for dinner?
Image credit: Rare Books & Manuscripts Department, Boston Public Library, copy G.176.16. The most excellent historie of the merchant of Venice. First Quarto. London: 1600.
Citing this page: Shakespeare, William. The Merchant of Venice, G2r. London: 1600. Cacodemon Digital Shakespeare. Edited by Jonah Gold and Molly Freel. Source edition: Rare Books & Manuscripts Department, Boston Public Library (copy G.176.16). http://cacodemonshakespeare.com/comedies/merchant/g2r.
- Reference to the belief that Judaism is passed down maternally through the Mother, Jessica blames her mother for giving birth to her and making her Jewish
- Scylla is a sea monster and Charybdis is a whirlpool in the ocean. Sailors and mariners would have to avoid these for safe travel. The clown is comparing Jessica's Jewish parents to sea monsters and danger, referencing Antonio's current status of his ships and wealth at sea. Jews are to blame for Christian's misfortunes as Shylock is to blame for Antonio's misfortunes.
- Both antisemitic and misogynistic undertones. Jessica is helpless as a woman and needs to be saved by her husband. Jessica views being Jewish as a bad thing, so bad that she would need to be rescued from it.
- Referencing Kosher laws. For an animal to be Kosher, it must have split hooves and chew its cud. Pigs have split hooves, but do not chew their cud. Thus Jews who practice Kosher eating can not consume pig or any pork products.
- Referencing the Christian belief that Jewish people can not be accepted into Heaven solely because they are Jewish.
- Jessica refers to herself as the daughter of a Jew, and not a Jew herself because she views being Jewish as a negative trait.
- If you are Jewish or associate with Jewish people you can not be a good member of society.
- Another reference to Jewish Kosher laws—the more Jews that convert to Christianity, the more people who can eat pork. With higher demands, the price of pork will go up, and the blame will fall onto the Jews.
- Lorenzo reveals to the audience that Lancelot has gotten a black woman pregnant. Lorenzo believes bringing a mixed-race baby into the world is worse than converting a Jew and bringing them into Christian society.