Jews in Elizabethan Era
Jews had come to England following the Battle of Hastings and the Norman conquest of 1066. The expulsion of Jews from England by Edward I initiated a further decline in the reputation of the Jews. Jews were looked upon as heretics. In Europe the Catholics treated both Protestants and Jews as heretics. The Spanish inquisition set days for interrogating heretics and those who not acquitted were burnt at the stake.
Throughout history Jews were treated like objects and thoughts rather than actual human beings. . There have been many events against the Jews just because of the way they look, what they believed in, or what they did. The Jews have gone through so many hardships. They have been treated so poorly and cruel even to this day.
The people from the Elizabethan Era thought that Jews were associated with the Elizabethan witches because the Jews celebrated Sabbath and the witches celebrated at their Sabbat. They also thought they were associated with one another because they both had long, hooked noses and had dark complexion. It was also said that the Jews were hated because they were becoming renaissance men and taking over the jobs of Christians.
Elizabethan England was a power which resisted the persecutors, and that the Elizabethan imperial reform included Christian Cabala as an ingredient of the Elizabeth cult, perhaps making possible for a patriotic English Jew an easy transition to the religion of his adopted country.
In 1593, a few years before The Merchant of Venice was written, Queen Elizabeth I's physician Roderigo Lopez was accused of trying to poison her. Lopez, allegedly in league with the King of Spain, was convicted of treason, hung, and drawn and quartered in 1594. His was a very public execution, and the fact that he was a Marrano led to an outbreak of anti-Jewish sentiment in the country.
During Elizabethan era, Jews were allowed few roles in society, one of them being a moneylender. In his 1597 play, The Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare wrote a comedy about the greed of one Jew, Shylock. In the play Shylock is undermined, forced to lose his religion and loses most of his material belongings.
Take this forward to modern times and the stamp of fascism would be in place. When we consider the perception of Jews of this period - aliens, not even allowed to be citizens in their own home country - who is the villain? A little perspective should be put into place and it is only with a critical modern eye that we can put Shylock's character into perspective too.