Shylock
Photo Credit: Everett Collection

Shylock

The Merchant of Venice

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About Him

Living… in Venice, a city which Shylock sees as hypocritical in its legal code. As a city that condones slavery, Shylock sees no reason why the body of Antonio, his debtor, should not fully belong to him when his fellow Venetians “have among you many a purchased slave/Which, like your asses and your dogs and mules/You use in abject and in slavish parts."

Profession… moneylender. When his former nemesis, Antonio, comes to him looking for a guarantor on behalf of his friend Bassanio, Shylock is initially reluctant but soon sees an opportunity for revenge. Agreeing to lend Antonio the money, Shylock has one condition: should the money not be repaid, he will get a pound of Antonio’s flesh. When Antonio’s ships are seemingly lost at sea, Shylock is quick to demand his pound of flesh.

Interests... vengeance for the anti-Semitism he faces from Antonio and the city at large. Outraged by the lenciency afforded Antonio, Shylock refuses to give his debtor the mercy never afforded him. 

Relationship Status... widower. Though he cares about his daughter, Jessica, we don't see Shylock in love with anything but money or vengeance. He drives a hard bargain for Antonio's bond even though the money is for Antonio's friend Bassanio, so Bassanio can pursue the beautiful heiress Portia. Shylock is definitely no romantic.

Challenge… making Antonio hold up his side of the contract. Unfortunately for Shylock, a mysteriously feminine lawyer (OK, it's Portia in disguise) may be able to dismiss his case on a technicality.

Personality… debatable. On the one hand, Shylock is blood-thirsty and greedy. But on the other hand, he’s persecuted because of his religion and constantly pressured to became a Christian, so he has legitimate reasons to be difficult. As a result of the anti-Semitism he faces, Shylock is very resentful, asking “Hath not a Jew eyes? [....] If you prick us do we not bleed?/If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us/Do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not/Revenge?" He really does have a point, even if he's not the most sympathetic person to make it.

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