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Jews Stereotypes in Shakespeare's the Merchant of Venice

  • Date Submitted: 12/01/2010 12:58 PM
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Stereotypes and The Merchant of Venice

Stereotype is a fixed image of all members of a culture, group, or race usually based on limited and inaccurate information resulted from the minimal contact with these stereotyped groups. stereotypes have many forms; people are stereotyped according to their religion, race, ethnicity, age, gender, coulor, or national origins. This kind of intolerance is focused on the easily observable characteristics of groups of people. In general, stereotypes reduce individuals to a rigid and inflexible image that doesn't account for the multi-dimensional nature of human beings. One example of stereotypes is the categorization of the Jews in Elizabethan era. In fact, Elizabethan era was an age of prejudice, discrimination, and religious persecution particularly against minorities. Jewish people were one of those minorities who was suffering and struggling for survival. This racist attitude against the Jews was rife not only in England but also across Europe. "Christians tended to see the Jews as an alien people whose repudiation of the Christ had condemned them to a perpetual migration. Jews were denied citizenship and its rights in much of Europe and forced to wear distinctive clothing to identify themselves in public (the yellow star, or badges of shame). There were forced expulsions of the Jews from several regions across Europe." (1). Jews were even believed to worship the devil.

    Being a mirror of the age, Elizabethan literature was not in isolation from the currents of the era including these stereotypes. All these attitudes of ethnocentrism and xenophobia were skillfully interpreted through literature in general and drama in particular. One example of this is Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice which is about a miser money-lender Jew. Portrayal of the Jews was a long-standing tradition by Shakespeare's time as E. E. Stoll argues: "A miser, a money-lender, a Jew – all three had from time immemorial been objects of popular...


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