Despite what many modern critics say, Shakespeare's plays are written from a profoundly Christian perspective. This site presents literary criticism demonstrating that. To submit your essay for publication (arguing either for or against this position), email us - kevin @

Shylock the Leprechaun

The source of Shakespeare's famous Jew is not very Jewish

Shylock the Leprechaun
Joseph Pearce

I'm intrigued by an e-mail I've just received from Brendan King in which he updates me on his research into the Shylock legend. Here are some of his bizarre and surprising discoveries:

During my research into the Shylock legend, I have found numerous versions where the moneylender is definitely not Jewish.

In an Irish language version from the Aran Islands, "Shylock" is a Leprechaun. In a Scottish Gaelic version from the Outer Hebrides, he is implied to be a Northman. Most intriguing is a Jewish folktale from Morocco. In this version, the debtor is a Jew and "Shylock" is a Muslim.

In every version mentioned, "Portia" saves "Antonio/Bassanio" with the same prohibition against shedding blood.

This seems to confirm Chesterton's belief that the legend is a "medieval satire on usury" rather than a simple anti-Semitic slur.



Regarding the Irish and Scottish versions, the first was collected by Anglo-Irish playwright J. M. Synge in 1905 and appears in his book The Aran Islands. The second appears in John Francis Campbell's 19th century anthology Popular Tales of the West Highlands.

The Moroccan version appears in Pinhas Sadeh's recent anthology of Jewish folktales. According to Sadeh's commentary, the legend is also very popular among Jews from Iraq and Iran.