Merchant Of Venice - Antonio And Shylock


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William Shakespeare shows how two tradesmen can have completely different lives when others view them differently in the play The Merchant of Venice. In the play, Bassanio, Antonio’s friend, needs money to pursue his love. They seek a loan from Shylock, a Jewish moneylender in Antonio’s name. The contract is for three times the value of the bond in three months or else Shylock cuts off a pound of flesh from Antonio. While all this is happening, there are love plots going on. One of which is for Shylock’s daughter to elope with Lorenzo, a Christian. Later on, Antonio’s source of money, his ship, is reported sunken in the English Channel, dooming him to the loss of one pound of his flesh. There is a trial on the bond, and when it seems sure that Antonio will die, Portia, disguised as a doctor of laws legally gets Antonio out of the situation and Shylock recieves harsh penalties. Antonio and Shylock, two similar businessmen of Venice, are viewed differently and are treated oppositely to heighten the drama of the play and mold a more interesting plot.

Antonio and Shylock are both successful entrepreneurs in Venice but they both have different attitudes and experiences. When Antonio is asking Shylock for the loan he says, “Within these two months – that’s a month before this bond expires – I do expect, return of thrice times the value of this bond.” (1.3.169-170). Antonio and Shylock both are well off and successful businessmen. Antonio, being a man who is treats everyone nicely, lends his good name to Bassanio to woo Portia. Shylock on the other hand, could never do that and is a very greedy man who asks for three times the value of the loan. Also, Antonio is a risk taker and thinks things will always go the right way for him and his success will continue, which is shown when he accepts the high interest rate and the bizarre payment if the money isn’t received. Shylock handles his business straightforward and charges interest because it is his job, although being a very high amount and if it isn’t carried out, Shylock gets his payment of one pound of flesh. Shylock is depicted as the greedy businessman while Antonio is the nice man who tries his luck.

Another way Antonio and Shylock are different is their religion based social status: Antonio is a Christian and Shylock is a Jew.

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When Antonio walks into the room, Shylock greets him with, “I hate him for he is a Christian . . . I will feed fat the ancient grudge I bear him.”(1.3.42&47) Shylock doesn’t even give Antonio a chance to bond with him and already hates him even though Antonio is a respectable businessman who has ties around the world. Shylock is placed in a constant Christian hating mood just because he is Jewish and it whenever something bad happens, its due to a Christian, from his daughter running away or all his assets being taken away. This is justified by the way Christians act toward him but he still shouldn’t stereotype everyone in the city he is in. Antonio is a Christian, which means he will automatically fit in with the city and have everything go his way. Shakespeare uses the contrast between the religions of the two to show how much it can change a life in Venice.

The main way Antonio and Shylock are contrasted is their relationship to others. When Antonio wins the trail, he wants to change the sentence so that his assets will go to Jessica and Lorenzo in his will and that “He [Shylock] presently becomes a Christian.” (4.1.403) Although both going follow through with the words of the bond, Antonio comes out the victor because everyone is on Antonio’s side and all else is against the Jew. Everyone hates Shylock just for his religion, making him a bitter man who always is out of luck. Shakespeare makes Shylock’s situation worse because he has no friends in the play. The closest thing Shylock has to a friend is his daughter Jessica, who betrays him for a Christian and even his servant leaves him. Antonio has all the friends and good relationships in the play who come out and help him just like he would help them. It is so unfair for Shylock that he actually loses his own trail even though he is the prosecution.

Shakespeare contrasts two men who could be socially equal and make them turn out and act differently. Naturally, the Jew gets social short straw in the story. Although the anti-Semitism seems wrong to a 21st century audience, it is perfectly fine for the Elizabethan audience who views Shylock’s bad luck somewhat as comic relief. While it seems like Shylock might come out the victor in the story, he just loses even more and more in the end.


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