The Merchant of Venice revisited

by Ted Belman

Alan Bloom, the author of The Closing of the American Mind, also had published, Giants and Dwarfs which is a compilation of some of his essays. It is an intellectual tour de force.

One paper has to do with understanding The Merchant of Venice.

Essentially, it is the story of a clash of civilizations. Bloom writes

    “Shylock and Antonio are Jew and Christian and they are at war as a result of their differences of faith. It is not that they misunderstand each other because of the long history of prejudice and that enlightenment could correct their hostility; rather, their real views of the world, their understanding of what is most important in life, are so opposed that they could never agree.

    [..] To do away with their hostility, the beliefs of each would have to be done away with – those beliefs which go from the very depths to the heights of their souls. In other words their beings would have to be changed for men are constituted most essentially by their understanding of the most important things.”


Thus Shylock’s pursuit of his “pound of flesh” is at odds with the “quality of mercy” and something has to give. It little matters that Jews are also humans. “Hath not a Jew eyes. hath not a Jew hands,organs, dimensions…” Shylock’s plea, is irrelevant. In the end, Shylock is hoisted on his own petard for he cannot take exactly what is due him.

Do not focus on the alleged superiority of Christianity to Judaism because Judaism is viewed here through antisemitic eyes. Rather view it as a clash of incompatible civilizations. Fortunately these civilizations have come together since then in ways undreamed of. It is common nowadays to refer to our shared Judeo/Christian values..

Islam is at odds with these common values and has been since day one. In this case, the differences are not based on prejudice but are real and significant. We would do well to take Bloom’s words above to heart.

September 18, 2007 | 2 Comments »

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4 Comments / 2 Comments

  1. I am sorry that Alan Bloom has passed away. I would have liked his analysis of our current predicament.

    Islam is at odds with all other faiths, cultures, and civilizations. The Koran claims to “confirm” Judaism and Christianity but there is nothing familiar in it, nothing beautiful, nothing transcendent. It’s as foreign to me as an alien from outer space would be. Western scholars who have studied the Koran and given it legitimacy have a lot to answer for, although to be fair it is a life threatening business to criticize Islam. What could be more different than this?

  2. I am sorry that Alan Bloom has passed away. I would have liked his analysis of our current predicament.

    Islam is at odds with all other faiths, cultures, and civilizations. The Koran claims to “confirm” Judaism and Christianity but there is nothing familiar in it, nothing beautiful, nothing transcendent. It’s as foreign to me as an alien from outer space would be. Western scholars who have studied the Koran and given it legitimacy have a lot to answer for, although to be fair it is a life threatening business to criticize Islam. What could be more different than this?

  3. Christianity to Judaism: I will get hamered for this one.lol I’m Christian BUT! as I see it and I beleave they go hand and hand. There is but 1 GOD and 1 Bible…. That is a Fact as I see it. I need to keep this simple and short.Judaism is my begining with GOD.

  4. Christianity to Judaism: I will get hamered for this one.lol I’m Christian BUT! as I see it and I beleave they go hand and hand. There is but 1 GOD and 1 Bible…. That is a Fact as I see it. I need to keep this simple and short.Judaism is my begining with GOD.

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