by James A. Clapp


The Moneylender : A Novel of the Inner Life of Shakespear’s Shylock
by Sebastian Gerard
Since 16th century in England, when Shakespeare first conjured him, Shylock, the moneylender in The Merchant of Venice, has been a magnet for vilification of Jews by theatre audiences the world over. Little is known of this character, fashioned from and carrying forward the prevailing an Elizabethan age antisemitic stereotypes who speaks only seventy-nine lines in the entire play.
Shylock’s lines reinforce the stigmatism and mistreatment of what were regarded as Christ-killers and greedy moneylenders so villainous in manner that he would demand a pound of debtor’s flesh in payment.
Such is the dilemma for Jewish theater director David Adler-Sterne, commissioned to direct Merchant in San Diego, but who sees Shylock as much victim as villain. It is a dilemma of casting and direction that motivates him to visit Venice, and the Ghetto that likely would have been where are any actual16th century Jewish moneylender would have lived.
Interspersed with Adler-Sterne’s quest for inspiration from the atmospherics of the Ghetto is the story of real moneylender Shalukeh in the late 1500s, who was brutalized and humiliated by Venetian Christians. Much of Shalukeh’s story and the sources of his hatred of Christians is recounted in a secret chronicle that he begins after his maltreatment by his debtors.
Shalukeh’s manuscript, the biography of a Portuguese crypto-Jewish refugee, has remained secreted in a Ghetto synagogue for over 500 years, but is fortuitously discovered during a renovation project just days before Adler-Sterne is to return to America, and a person who could have been, the model or inspiration for Shakespeare’s Shylock is tantalizingly revealed.
The Moneylender is a story of religious persecution, lies, deceit, deception, torture, murder, and vengeance that extends from antiquity to the present day and has been transmitted in historical facts and by a stereotypical character and famous work of fiction. But all fiction has its origins in reality.