'Which is the merchant here, and which the Jew?’

Alterity, Sameness and Irony in Venice

in European Judaism
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This article takes up one of the most perplexing and thoroughly examined questions posed by Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice – the origin and extent of Antonio’s melancholy. While many critical responses point to anxieties towards his ventures abroad, unrequited romantic love or general indecisiveness to explain the merchant’s sadness, this reading asserts that his atrabilious nature must stem from something more latent, comprehensive and socially binding. This article argues that it is Antonio’s unwanted, yet pre-existing and indisputable similitude with Shylock, the Jewish usurer, that incites an internal sadness; Antonio’s insistence upon his absolute difference to Shylock’s profession, religion and humanity ignites and prolongs melancholy, since those are, ironically, the very things that make them so similar and renders his opposition unsuccessful.

European Judaism

A Journal for the New Europe