chapter  15
16 Pages

The Jew and the Justice of Venice

ByHanna Scolnicov

The courtroom scene in The Merchant of Venice (Act 4, scene 1)1 may be seen as a performance of the archetypal medieval religious confrontation between the emblematic female figures of the triumphant Ecclesia and the blindfolded Synagoga, the first standing for the new law of Mercy, the second for the Old Testament demand for justice, for the observance of the letter of the Law. The personified pair of the sculptural figures of the defeated Synagogue and the triumphant Church is visible in medieval cathedrals all over Europe:

Medieval people entering the cathedral, or seeing the pictorial representations of Ecclasia and Synagoga adorning bibles and psalters, well understood this portrayal and its underlying concept of perpetual balance. The ideology the statues depict summarizes in one scene dozens of laws, theological tracts and New Testament discourses on the Jewish place in Christian society.2