Essay on How Shylock is Presented in The Merchant of Venice

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How Shylock is Presented in The Merchant of Venice

Shakespeare’s play The Merchant of Venice, one of his romantic
comedies, was written in 1596. It deals with a dispute between
Shylock, a wealthy Jewish moneylender, and Antonio, a Venetian
citizen. The play begins in Venice, where Antonia’s friend, Bassanio,
needs a loan of 3,000 ducats so that he can court a wealthy heiress
named Portia. Not being able to raise the funds himself, Bassanio
asks Antonio for a loan. Unfortunately Antonio’s wealth is invested
in merchant ships that are presently at sea. Despite his wealth being
tied up at sea, Antonio agrees to ask for a short term loan of the
money from Shylock, a Jewish usurer. Shylock has a deep seated hate
of Antonio because of the insulting treatment that Antonio has shown
Shylock in the past. Although he is reluctant at first, Shylock
agrees to lend the money on the basis that if the 3,000 ducats are not
repaid within three months, Shylock will take a pound of Antonio’s
flesh. Despite the harsh terms, Antonio agrees to the contract,
confident that his ships, and his wealth, will return before the date
of repayment.

Just before the wedding of Bassanio and Portia, Shylock discovers to
his horror that Jessica, his only daughter, has eloped with a
Christian, taking a great deal of his wealth with her. Jessica’s
husband is Lorenzo, a friend of Bassanio and Antonio; Lorenzo shares
their antipathy to Shylock. While his friends are happy in their new
marriages, Antonio is worried because he learns that two of his ships
have been lost at sea. With the repayment date looming, Shylock is
asking for his pound of flesh. Portia...

... middle of paper ...

...oughts and feelings that we can discover from the play, and that we
can understand when we have discovered them. We cannot think of
Bassanio in this way. Yet in admiring Shakespeare's achievement in the
creation of Shylock, we must beware of danger. Often when we know a
person well and understand why he acts as he does we become
sympathetic towards him. In the merchant of Venice we are further
encouraged to sympathise with shylock also by the fact that other
leading characters such as Bassanio do not compel our sympathies.
Sympathy can give rise to affection and affection often temps to
withhold moral judgement or at least be gentle in our censure.
Shylock's conduct merits condemnation. We can only refrain from
condemning it because we know he has suffered from being a Jew and
this surely is another form of prejudice?

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