The article examines the role of “wolvish” characteristics and their association with Jewish identity in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice. Scholars have long noted the tendency of non-Jewish characters in the play to identify Shylock as canine. But this canine character, although fixed in its essence to Shylock, never remains the same, fluctuating between the various designations of “dog,” “cur,” and “wolf.” The essay argues that whereas the “dog” and “cur” designations function as manifestations of Christian typological thinking, the description of Shylock as a “wolf” belongs in a mythic view of humans and their place in the world. Thus, in The Merchant of Venice it is not only the human-animal distinction that remains unstable, but also the category of the “animal” itself. At stake is the accommodation of two different conceptions of animality: one belonging in Christian typology, and the other rooted in a mythical natural history. The distinction between these different categories, far from being trivial, has political, legal, and theological implications.

issue 23 / n.1 (2023) by Noam Pines