The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 16.0386 Friday, 25 February 2005
Date: Thursday, 24 Feb 2005 22:25:56 -0500
Subject: Antonio, A Convert
ANTONIO, A JEWISH CONVERT TO CHRISTIANITY
I briefly discussed the issue of Antonio as a Jewish convert in earlier
postings to the list. I first got on to this observation from Neil
Hirschson's perceptive article in Midstream Magazine in the late 1980s.
I have since added some new details to this material, which might be of
interest. I have therefore repeated what I wrote before and have added
Were you to read the book [The Hidden Shakespeare] you
would learn the evidence that Antonio, the Merchant, is
himself an apostate Jew. Shylock in talking to him
mentions numerous times expressions, such as "OUR [holy]
Abram," "Suffrence is the badge of all OUR tribe," and
compares Antonio to a "publican" ( "How like a publican
he looks" ) publicans were Jews in service to the Romans.
Shylock also notes that Antonio "lends for a Christian
courtsy." Nothing wrong with that if you are a Christian
but not so nice if you are a Jew lending for free to
people who persecute you.
When it is recognizes that Antonio is a former Jew, the
line becomes transformed within the new context. It means
now that "I hate him for he is a Jew that has become a
Christian." But note that Shylock then thinks better of it
and tries to win his love by giving him a free loan. In
fact, Jewish Talmudic law requires a Jew be given a free
loan even if he has converted.
Note Shylock's inclusive "our" in these expressions. There is even one
more such quote, when Shylock says of Antonio, "he hates OUR sacred
nation." Now compare Shylock's comment spoken to Christian Bassanio,
dropping the "our," saying: "Tubal, a wealthy Hebrew of MY tribe."
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