Publication Date


Advisor(s) - Committee Chair

Roy Miller, Will Fridy, Hoyt Bowen

Degree Program

Department of English

Degree Type

Master of Arts


While The Merchant of Venice has long been one of Shakespeare's most popular plays, it has also been one of the most controversial with Shylock being the hub of the conflict. Critics have long been arguing whether this great character is a tragic hero or a larger-than-life villain. Those opting for the first often believe the playwright guilty of anti-semitism, and those following the latter consider Shylock the embodiment of evil. Very few critics have viewed this character as three dimensional, possessing human dignity as well as a capacity for evil.

The first chapter reveals the many sources for both the plot of the play and for Shylock's character. Chapter II deals with the subject of usury historically and in relationship to Shylock's character. The third chapter reveals the humanness of Shylock, his supposedly fierce dedication to his values and his relationship with the Christians. Included also in this chapter is Shakespeare's use of imagery, particularly animal imagery in the revelation of Shylock's character, and the Jew's diabolic nature. Shylock as a scapegoat in the traditionally Jewish sense is the topic of Chapter IV.

The discussion of these pertinent areas of the play show that Shakespeare did not have to be antisemitic to write about an evil man who happened to be a Jew. It is shown that Shylock may be viewed consistently on three levels: the historic, the archetypal, and the literal. The point being made here is that the modern reader, particularly due to the fact that twentieth century man has perpetrated more atrocities on the Jewish people than all past centuries combined, is perhaps incapable of total objectivity where this play is concerned. We tend to view the play either offensively or defensively on an emotional level rather than intellectually and literally. This reaction is explored in the Conclusion using the philosophy of Jung and his studies of the collective unconscious.


Arts and Humanities | English Language and Literature | Jewish Studies | Literature in English, British Isles | Playwriting | Religion | Theatre and Performance Studies