"The Merchant of Venice" by William Shakespeare is a play of two parts. One part follows the fortunes of Bassanio, the merchant's closest friend, Antonio, in his attempts to court the beautiful and rich heiress of Belmont, Portia. The other part to the play deals with Antonio and his bond he makes with Shylock, a wealthy Jew. He makes this bond in his name to finance his dear friend Basanio's courtship. Antonio agrees with Shylock that if the three thousand ducats are not repaid within three months he will loose a pound of flesh. Bassanio eventually successfully courts Portia but discovers his good friend, Antonio has forfeited the bond. In the Venetian court Shylock tries to get his pound of flesh but Portia, disguised as a lawyer, crushes him, and the Christians return, in victory to Belmont.
Is Shylock, then, a villain who happens to be Jewish or an ill-treated and persecuted victim deserving of our sympathy? After close examination of the characterisation and the structure of the play I feel that he is indeed worthy of my pity.
I entertain a feeling of sympathy for Shylock because, during the play, he is ridiculed and hated by the Christians. One such instance when this happened during the play is when Antonio says, "The devil can cite scripture for his purpose. An evil soul producing holy witness is like a villain is like a villain with a smiling cheek." In this quote Shylock is referred to as "devil" and a "villain". The only reason this happens is for the simple reason that Shylock is Jewish and at the present point in time it was seen unfashionable to like Jews. Later in the same scene Shylock recalls past times where Antonio had ridiculed him. "In the Rialto you have rated me about my money and usances for the sufferance is the badge of all our tribe. You call me misbeliever, and cut throat dog and spit upon my Jewish gabardine." This is clear hatred of Shylock and his religion.