The article explores Shakespeare’s secularized retelling of the Christian theological narrative of deceiving the Devil, with Antonio playing the role of Christ and Shylock as the Devil. The article argues that recasting the contest between Christ and the Devil in the world of Venice sets the stage for Shakespeare’s larger exploration of the pervasive nature of deceit in human affairs. Although it seems that Shakespeare’s characters are resigned to live in a fallen world where truth is obscured, Portia’s invocation of mercy may be Shakespeare’s attempt to offer some hope of an earthly salvation. The article argues that this portrait of a world filled with deception resonated with Shakespeare’s audience. Men and women in early modern England lived in a world where they often had to hide their religious identities and loyalties. This interpretation challenges more recent attempts to see the play as primarily concerned with race and tolerance.
Jonathan Elukin is Associate Professor of History, Trinity College, Hartford, CT, USA. He is the author of Living Together, Living Apart:Rethinking Jewish-Christian Relations in the Middle Ages (Princeton University Press, 2007).