Date of Award
Master of Arts in English
This thesis is a study of William Shakespeare's characterization of his famous Jew, Shylock, the antagonist of The Merchant of Venice. While the bulk of the scholarly criticism on Shylock has reflected for the most part of the coloring that different centuries have placed on varying attitudes toward the Jew, I have attempted to restore the historical perspective to an appreciation of this fascinating character.
Shylock’s participation in the drama is as a Jew and a usurer, two of the most hated and ridiculed figures in the history of Western Civilization. As such they became stock conventional characters on the medieval and Elizabethan stages. Shakespeare’s portrayal of the Jew is amazingly consistent with these conventions. With the addition of the sources that the dramatist made use of, they do much to establish Shylock as a comic butt, a character who is essentially trivial and mundane.
However, this is by no means the final summation of Shylock. There is still that human aspect of the Jew to be contended with. As do many of the dramatic characters of Shakespeare, Shylock has that seemingly indefinable quality in his characterization that make him become everlastingly real. His personality is that complex.
Finally, I have dealt with the most vicious of his attackers who call him an inhuman villain, and the more sympathetic critics who look upon Shylock as a tragic figure. These are epithets that his shallowness and ignoble values do not warrant. Shylock is, as I see it, consistently trivial throughout the entire drama.
Barker, Walter Lawton, "The Transparent Triviality of Shakespeare's Shylock" (1962). Open Access Master's Theses. Paper 2070.