Physician to Queen Elizabeth)
possibly used by Shakespeare
 as the model for Shylock

Rodrigo Lopez, whose original name was probably Rodrigo Lopes  was physician to Queen Elizabeth, and may have been an inspiration for Shakespeare's Shylock in ‘The Merchant of Venice’.

He was born in Crato, Portugal and raised as a New Christian, but driven away from Portugal by the Portuguese Inquisition and considered a Marrano (a hidden Jew).

He made London his home in 1559 and very successfully resumed his practice as a doctor, soon becoming house physician at St. Bartholomew's Hospital. Despite racial prejudice and professional jealousy, he developed a large practice among powerful people including Robert Dudley and Francis Walsingham.  Rumour held that his success was less due to his medical skill and more to his skill at flattery and self-promotion. In a 1584 libellous pamphlet attacking Dudley, it was suggested that Lopez distilled poisons for Dudley and other nobleman. In 1586, he reached the pinnacle of his profession and was made physician-in-chief to Queen Elizabeth.  Lopez was held in the Queen's favour for, in 1589, she granted him a monopoly on the import of aniseed and sumac into England. His success continued as he neared retirement and he was viewed, at least outwardly, as being a dutiful practicing Protestant.

In October 1593, he was wealthy and generally respected. He owned a house in Holborn and had a son enrolled at Winchester College. However, also in October, a complex conspiracy web against Don Antonio began to come to light. Subsequently, Lopez was accused by Robert Devereux of conspiring with Spanish emissaries to poison the Queen. He was arrested on January 1, 1594, convicted in February, and subsequently executed (hanged, drawn and quartered) on June 7. The Queen herself was uncertain of his guilt (hence the delay in his execution) and he maintained his innocence of treason and his being converted from Judaism to Christianity until his execution. According to William Camden, right before he was hanged he said to the crowd that he loved his Queen as well as he loved Jesus Christ; the crowd laughed at this statement, taking it for a thinly veiled confession, as in their eyes he was still a Jew.

Some historians and literary critics consider Lopez and his trial to have been an influence on William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice.[1] "Many Shakespearean scholars believe Dr. Lopez was the prototype for Shylock...."[2], which is believed to have been written between 1594 and 1597, though the play undoubtedly relies more on Christopher Marlowe's ‘The Jew of Malta’.


1. Faye Kellerman, The Quality of Mercy (historical novel), "Historical Summary", pp. 606-607, New York, Morrow, 1989.

2. Greenblatt, S. (2004). Will In The World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare, New York: W. W. Norton.

• Dr Lopez Plo 1594

• Jewish Encyclopedia Lopez Entry