Merchant of Venice - Shylock

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Shylock is “The Merchant of Venice”

In William Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice," there are many themes, symbols and words alike which take on a complex and dual nature. Not only can lines in the play be interpreted by the audience in multiple ways, they are meant to have multiple meanings. This duality can be seen in the characters as well. Shylock is portrayed as both a victim and a villain and our sense of him evolves as his character is revealed to us as “The Merchant of Venice.” We are first introduced to Shylock in Act I Scene III when we learn about his job as a moneylender. During this period of time, Jewish people were very limited in the jobs they could obtain; they were looked down upon by, and on the fringe of, society. While the Christians could lend money, it was immoral and against church rule for them to charge any type of interest, it was usurious. However, there was nothing to forbid Jewish lenders from making a living by charging interest. They did so to survive and were despised for such an “immoral and disgraceful” practice. Bassanio goes to Shylock for a loan to be given in Antonio's name. Upon Antonio’s entering, Shylock displays his disdain for Antonio in an aside, “How like a fawning publican he looks! / I hate him for he is Christian, / but more for that in low simplicity / he lends out money gratis…” (1.1.41-45). His hatred is dual in nature; Antonio lends money without interest threatening the existence of his job as a moneylender. Also, Antonio is prejudiced against the Jews and has humiliated and insulted Shylock publicly for both his lending practices and his religion. This is revealed when Shylock asks Antonio why he should lend money to someone who has, “…rated me / About my moneys and my usuances…” (1.3.117-118) “You call me misbeliever, cutthroat dog / And spet upon my Jewish Gaberdine…” (1.3.121-122). Shylock could not retaliate the prejudice, and had to tolerate the abuse, "Still have I borne it...
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