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Is Shylock Jewish?

Citing Scripture and the Moral Agency of Shakespeare's Jews

Sara Coodin

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A detailed exploration of the significance of Hebrew Biblical stories in The Merchant of Venice

What happens when we consider Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice as a play with ‘real’ Jewish characters who are not mere ciphers for anti-Semitic Elizabethan stereotypes? Is Shylock Jewish? studies Shakespeare’s extensive use of stories from the Hebrew Bible in The Merchant of Venice, and argues that Shylock and his daughter Jessica draw on recognizably Jewish ways of engaging with those narratives throughout the play. By examining the legacy of Jewish exegesis and cultural lore surrounding these biblical episodes, this book traces the complexity and richness of Merchant’s Jewish aspect, spanning encounters with Jews and the Hebrew Bible in the early modern world as well as modern adaptations of Shakespeare’s play on the Yiddish stage.

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Contents

Introduction: Is Shylock Jewish?
1. Renaissance England and the Jews
2. Parti-Coloured Parables
3. Stolen Daughters and Stolen Idols
4. Rebellious Daughters on the Yiddish Stage
Conclusion.

About the Author

Sara Coodin is assistant professor at the University of Oklahoma, where she teaches Renaissance literature and Shakespearean Drama. Raised and educated in Montréal, Québec, she learned Yiddish, Hebrew, and French at an early age, and came to the study of Shakespeare somewhat later during her graduate studies at McGill University. Her research focuses on questions of moral agency in Shakespeare and the multi-vocality of Shakespeare’s plays, including Shakespeare’s adaptation into other languages.

Reviews

Sara Coodin demonstrates how The Merchant of Venice’s engagement with the Genesis narratives of Jacob resonates with centuries of rabbinic midrash, early modern Christian Hebraist exegesis and 20th-century Yiddish adaptations of the play to argue that Shakespeare’s play supports Jewish interpretations that would have been legible to his Christian audience.

- M. Lindsay Kaplan, Georgetown University

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