“Which is the Merchant and which is the Jew?” a Žižekian Reading of the Jewish Question in The Merchant of Venice

Kuo Shih-pei, Taiwan, ID CLEaR2016-329;     This essay borrows Žižek’s interpretation of racism to read Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice. I argue that Shylock the Jewish usurer embodies both the structural contradiction of capitalism and the social contradiction which characterizes the Venetian setting torn by capitalism and Christianity. Usury represented by Shylock, which excludes any human factor and only engages the direct monetary exchange, contradicts the Christian orthodox of generosity and unrequited devotion. These central Christian values are certainly questioned as Bassonio’s courtship of Portia, based on his disguised wealth, is indistinguishable from a profitable enterprise. Shylock’s fascination with money and revenge, also mirrors the Christians’ clandestine longing for these two forbidden enjoyments. However, what is more puzzling and hostile to the Christians, is Shylock’s paranoid insistence on bloody revenge beyond the concern of monetary gains, “che vuoi,” an unexplainable desire of the other. Therefore, Shylock the other must be vanquished, by converting him to a Christian, in other words, by homogenizing him, to disguise the Christians’ problematic of desire.  

Key words: Shakespeare, Žižek, the Jewish question, Christianity, capitalism