Wish all this "Much Ado About Shakespeare" was merely an April Fool's joke, but sadly it isn't. Still, the show goes on and we do what we can to entertain you.
What depresses me more than Joe Atwill not learn anything from me is that he isn't learning from himself.
The play "The Merchant of Venice" is written in much the same spirit as the Gospels. The heroes of the story (the Christian brothers Bassanio, Antonio, and Lorenzo) are proudly scamming everybody (particularly the Jew Shylock and his daughter) yet are all the same made out to be true saints on account of it.
It's beyond me how anyone could think that a Jew could have invented the character Shylock, although Joe Atwill is surprisingly not the first. Many have tried to redeem Shylock's pathetic role and with little satisfaction. Unlike the converted Jewish physician Roderigo Lopez (fully deprived and executed by Queen Elizabeth just prior to the writing of Merchant of Venice), the fictional Shylock is allowed to live and keep some of his wealth, but only on the condition of becoming a Christian and bequeathing all his worldly possessions to a non-Jew (Lorenzo) upon his (fast approaching) death. This is hardly a softening of Christian attitudes toward Jews, and scarcely worth the effort of a prospective Jewish activist.
The primary message being sent by "The Merchant of Venice" is that the Medici clan was stealing from the Jews in order to buy their way into European royalty! And they were styled as highly contented with themselves for having done so. It doth NOT appear that Shakespeare protested said transaction, but found only twisted humor in the telling.
© Charles N. Pope, US Library of Congress. All rights reserved.