The Jews were a group of proud people who were unfortunately discriminated against, humiliated and harassed by Christians mainly during the Middle Ages. Hostility or injustice directed at Jews is called anti – Semitism. There were many examples of anti – Semitism, including a famous playwright called William Shakespeare who wrote, embarrassed and made the Jews appear evil in his works. An issue that he brought to life was the fact that Jews are violent and practice usury (which can be observed in the Merchant of Venice when Shylock demands a pound of Antonio’s flesh).
Anti – Semitism was widely accepted and practised by Christians, and this affected almost all of the Jews. They were blamed and criticised for many things such as usury, bringing bad luck, and for most uneventful happenings. Anti – Semitism further went on, and Jews were restricted to having jobs of the low profession, and thus, some became considered to be socially inferior. However, there were a few who had successful jobs in being money lenders. Christian law decreed that money lending for interest was a sin, and therefore Christians were unable to take up this career. On the other hand, Jews weren’t bound to this law and were free to do as they pleased. Another issue was that the Christians were vandalised nearly all of the Jews’ property. The synagogues, schools and houses were burnt as well as the prayer books. Soon after, the Jews were forced to live in separate areas, called ghettos. These ghettos have been regarded as prisons, but Jews have also been able to practice their religion safely.
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In 1290, King Edward banished them from England, and only a few remained behind either because they converted to Christianity or because they received special protection for the services that they had previously provided. The reason for this was because there were many superstitions and stereotypes going around about the Jews, and also because the Christians strongly detested the Jews. The Christians believed that the latter were devils and the anti – Christ, and this was the main reason why the Jews were hated. There were many actions that resulted from this idea: some tried to force the Jews to become Christian, while others tried to banish them from the country. On stage, Jews were portrayed as being clumsy, insolent, greedy, and were known to be prisoners, murderers and parasites. There was evidence of this, such as the play “The Merchant of Venice” which was written by Shakespeare. In this work, Shakespeare has depicted the Jew (Shylock) as the villain, who, after lending money to a Christian, demands a pound of the latter’s flesh. We can observe that Shakespeare is trying to show that Jews were usurers and cruel back then.
During the time of Shakespeare (around the sixteenth century), Jews were known to be extremely hated. There came a point when King Louis XIII decreed that all Jews were to leave the country in pain of death. Another person who strongly loathed the Jews was Martin Luther (1483 – 1540). Martin Luther was a famous anti – Semitic Christian who, at first, supported the Jews. However, he later became angry with them when they didn’t accept his religion (a few years earlier, he had created a new religion called Protestantism). He then wrote a lot about the Jews, for example, his famous pamphlet “On the Jews and their Lies.”
So as you can see, the Jews during the time of Shakespeare were not treated well, and were often made fun of and hated. In the end, the Christians believed that Jesus would return and that when he did, they would need Jews so they could prove that Jesus was real, as well as converting the latter to Christianity.
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