“When Mercy Seasons Justice:” Shakespearean Dialectics and Jewish Legal Theory
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Senior honors thesis / Open access
This essay will explore how Shakespeare navigates these questions, with specific emphasis on his assignment of positions on these questions to his Jewish and Christian characters. How do the characters conform to their given archetypal perspectives, and when do they cross over to the other side? Why did Shakespeare assign justice to Judaism and mercy to Christianity, and was he correct to do so? Did he actually believe that Jewish and Christian values oppose each other in this way, or did he create this enmity for literary and dramatic effect? A clearer understanding of the play’s message and the playwright’s intentions can be reached through an examination of justice and mercy through the lens of Jewish thought and law. I will discuss how Jewish tradition relates to justice and mercy, both in general and as they are manifest in the plot of Merchant, before analyzing Shakespeare’s treatment of the issues in the play. An accurate perception of Judaism’s true position allows for a reevaluation of the characters and the origins of both the beliefs they project outwards and those that they act upon.
Perl, S.A. (2021, May). “When Mercy Seasons Justice:” Shakespearean Dialectics and Jewish Legal Theory [Bachelor's honors thesis, Yeshiva University].
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