How far do you agree with this statement? Does Shylock deserve his punishment?
Shylock is punished by the Venetian court for seeking to end Antonio’s life. He is charged under a Venetian law (of Shakespeare’s creation) and he is forced to give up his wealth and to beg the Duke to spare him his life. Viewed like this it seems simple enough; Shylock broke a Venetian law and, as a consequence, is punished. However, Shylock’s case is far from simple. Antonio’s demand that Shylock should renounce his Judaism and become a Christian and his insistence that Shylock should will his money to the Christian Lorenzo who lately stole his daughter1, add up to much more than punishment for wrongdoings. Moreover, the treatment of the Jew by the supposedly merciful Christians, although readily accepted by a less tolerant Elizabethan society, seems, to a 21st century audience with its knowledge of the holocaust, to be cruel to the point of humiliation. The question to be answered is this: is Shylock’s complete humiliation a fair punishment for his crimes?
Shylock does himself no favours. On the surface, he appears to be a money orientated, avaricious character who is also driven by a hatred of Christians and particularly of Antonio: I hate him for he is a Christian; But more, for that in low simplicity He lends out money gratis2
He seems to be driven by an unhealthy desire for revenge, to feed fat the ancient grudge3 he has for Antonio. The merry sport4 devised by Shylock is nothing more than a devious trap set in order to catch [Antonio] on the hip5. Furthermore, his reaction to Jessica’s elopement with Lorenzo does not centre on the loss of his daughter, but on the loss of his ducats:
I would my daughter were dead at my foot, and the jewels in her ear: would she were hearsed at my foot and the ducats in her coffin.6