“It is wonderful from time to time to showcase particular teachers who offered to write a detailed description of their work with their students.  Thank you, Joanne.”
—Shira Deener, Head of School

As Jewish cultures have survived for millennia, so too has antisemitism. Four hundred-plus years after Shakespeare’s death, the JCDS eighth graders explored “The Merchant of Venice” and through the careful study of Shylock, the Jewish moneylender, whether the play is antisemitic.

Shylock is requested by Antonio, the merchant, to loan him 3,000 ducats. Shylock agrees on the condition that if the loan is not repaid within three months time, he, Shylock, is entitled to a pound of Antonio’s flesh. The merchant willingly agrees but then unexpectedly defaults on the loan, and according to a notarized document, Shylock, by law, is entitled to his bond.

As Shylock prepares to cut the pound of flesh from Antonio’s chest, it is noted by the court that while the bond entitles him to the flesh, it states nothing about his taking one jot of blood in the act of cutting, thus making Shylock’s situation impossible.

In a moment’s time the tables turn, and Shylock, as an “alien” Jew, is accused of conspiring to murder a Venetian citizen. He is then forced to relinquish his fortune to both the state of Venice and his estranged daughter who has eloped with a Christian and is also forced, if he wishes not to die at the hands of his Christian adversaries, to convert to Christianity.

Shylock leaves the courtroom a silent and broken man.

The eighth graders were given two class periods, working in groups of four, to write last words for Shylock to speak before departing from the court—to state that which Shakespeare did not allow him the opportunity to do.

“Shylock’s Final Words” by Amalyah, Ma’ayan R., Yakir, Noah and Lily

What doth thou gain from this torture? Is not the hate I receive
each waking day enough to punish an eternity of sins?
All I shall ever desire is to be treated as man, not by bone and
skin, but through regard and perception.
Is not to be human to seek blood?
To yearn for thine enemy’s demise?
My opponent is not solely the wicked Antonio, but the thieving
Christian faith.
My wife is gone, and my only daughter has been swallowed up by
my enemy’s religion, yet all my life I have had my gold and jewels
to fill the gaping void in my heart and my religion as a compass
for my wandering soul.
First thou mock me for these loves, and now with thy cold,
compassionless hands thou doth wrench the only pillars from my
Nay, it could not take one thousand conversions to wash the Jew
from me, and to my deathbed will I take my theology if nothing
else whether it be on the morrow or in a hundred and
twenty years to the age of my father, Moses. So too, like Moses,
have I suffered at the hands of my oppressors. But unlike him, I
have let thou cruelty pestle me into nothing more than a shell of a
Some days I find myself craving the scrutiny to be reminded that I
am worthy of attention and not the monster I see each day I look
in the mirror.

Thou thinkest I am, but a villain, nay.
My whole life I have been only a victim.
I am greedy because so much has been stolen from me.
I am vengeful because so many have hurt me.
Should thou force a cross around my neck, the Christians still shall not accept my Jewish soul, nor shall the Jews then accept mine own being.
Mayhap we do not bleed the same blood, for though I take money, though I take jewels, and though I strive to take flesh,
I would not, for all the ducats in Venice, take a man’s dignity.

“Shylock’s Final Words to the Court” by Maayan DC, Layla, Revaya and Natan

Put thy ears to me!
Hurt, scorned, ridiculed; this is I.
By thy Christian hand,
oh to my wretched Christian hand.
Hatred blinds me,
anger chains me like a leashed dog,
sadness doth pierce me through my heart.
Overfloweth my emotions as a drunk doth pour his cup.
And thou the devils that brought this to my life.
Though thou hath not brought a knife to my chest,
thou hath burdened me with more pain and sorrow,
than any dagger ever could.
Thou cut me open and ripped out my soul.
My daughter, my ducats, my dignity.
What more can thou taketh?
My soul has been reaped,
what left do I possess?
Thou spit, gossip, steal, and spurn.
Thou taketh my bloodline and tarnish my name,
but thou shall never have my beating heart.
For as I could not taketh Antonio’s blood,
thou shall never taketh mine,
my blood shall forever remain Jewish.
Now I sit here in front of thee,
and thou still lookest me as I’m David and thou, Goliath.
Thou doth not know my pain?
as thy Christian head never felt this suffering before?

Thou Christians stole my God,
as thou taketh my child.
Thou stole my red hat,
as thou stole my livelihood.
I shall never be thy slave,
my Jewish identity shall follow me to my grave.

“Shylock’s Final Words” by Maayan S., James, Matan, Libby and Yael

Thou all hast viewed Antonio saintly,
But hath thinkest me a wretched rat-
Or consider his sins as that of misdeeds.
Numerous occasions hath he spat on me,
Cursed me with names,
Cheated me by my ducats,
All because I am a Jew,
And now thou will taketh the source of my vitality,
In order to humiliate me ever more.
The Heritage of the Jew hath lasted thousands of years,
Doth a Jew not carry on with tradition?
To thus oral history,
Have I given my life?
Through it I hath lost my loving wife
To the vicious hands of death,
My daughter to the crooked fingers of a Christian.
And to all my precious ducats, you have ripped from my
After all thou hast taken, I merely lay as a bare carcass,
Religion is the meaning to my existence,
To that I’ve tethered my life.
To that I’ve spared my dignity.
All I pleaded was fair justice,
But thou couldn’t even lend me that,
Now I lay before you stripped of all I own and adore,
If I shan’t have my bond,
I shall secure my religion,
And that I shall take to the grave.

Joanne Baker is a seventh and eighth grade English teacher and Rosh 8th Grade at JCDS.

The School Sparks blog appears periodically by various writers among the JCDS educational team. Learn more about JCDS, Boston’s Jewish Community Day School.

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