Re-examining The Merchant of Venice: Politics, Religion, and Gender in Early Modern Venice

Abstract

In this paper I will use Shakespeare’s classic play as a starting point to explore three aspects of socio-cultural life in early modern Venice and will evaluate how nearly the Bard’s representations align with historical sources native to that time and place. I will first address the complicated relationship between Shylock, Antonio, and the law. I will then proceed to discuss Geraldo de Sousa’s idea of textual communities, showing how the idea is both powerful and limited in light of Jewish participation in Venetian politics. Lastly, I will examine Shakespeare’s depiction of the marriage of Shylock’s daughter Jessica, her attendant conversion to Christianity, and how those experiences relate to social and sexual customs of the time, as well as to the Inquisition of Venice. In order to accurately portray these relationships I will call upon the text of Shakespeare’s play as well as a number of collections of printed primary sources and anecdotes from scholarly secondary sources that relate stories of interfaith or interethnic cooperation and/or discord. While Shakespeare’s representations of these relationships are relatively black and white, I intend to show that the reality was more sophisticated and nuanced. These three examinations cooperatively depict an early modern Venice that was conflicted by chafing proto-Enlightenment ideals and traditional ecclesiastical authority. This competition of ideas made Venice’s social and political structures much more ambiguous and difficult to predict than The Merchant of Venice would lead us to believe. 
How to Cite
. Re-examining The Merchant of Venice: Politics, Religion, and Gender in Early Modern Venice. Utah Historical Review, [S.l.], v. 1, dec. 2011. ISSN 2374-1570. Available at: <http://epubs.utah.edu/index.php/historia/article/view/531>. Date accessed: 27 may 2019.

Keywords

Religion; Jewish-Christian Relations; Gender; Shakespeare; Venice