Disowning Knowledge of Jessica, or Shylock's Skepticism

Stanley Cavell's idea of a skeptical trajectory offers a new way to understand Shylock's fanatical quest for certainty. Cavell's view that skepticism is experienced as a crisis of global doubt inviting a range of responses helps us to see Shylock's fixation on the bond as a symptom of a strategy of large-scale avoidance—avoidance of knowledge that with Jessica gone, his world has fallen away. Shylock's fanaticism exemplifies the dangers of abandoning skepticism, even as it provides a way of meeting its threats, while the play as a whole stages the practice of skepticism with its rhetoric of balanced oppositions.