Original Research

Antonio: The other Jew in The Merchant of Venice

S. M. Finn
Literator | Vol 10, No 1 | a819 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/lit.v10i1.819 | © 1989 S. M. Finn | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 07 May 1989 | Published: 07 May 1989

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Abstract

Antonio’s melancholy and his excessive hatred of Shylock are two puzzling aspects of The Merchant of Venice, most critics agreeing that the cause of the first is never revealed. However, the two (melancholy and mutual detestation) are closely linked. Antonio’s state of mind, his confusion, is brought on by his being (or, more accurately, having been) a Jew, too, who will always have to play the role of the born Christian. His original religious orientation is revealed throughout the play, showing him to be a converted Jew, or marrano (from the Spanish meaning “swine”), a type of person distrusted and abhorred by both “Old Christians” and Jews. Remarks throughout the play bear this out, and make it understandable why Shylock insists on Antonio’s heart, this being understood in Shakespeare’s day to be the centre of religious identity: he wishes to reclaim a Jewish soul.

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