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In "The Merchant of Venice," Shakespeare posited an extremely poignant moral dilemma confronting his antagonist, Shylock. Intensely bitter from the treatment he has endured as a result of his religion, Shylock is determined to receive what he believes is his due. The dilemma, articulated by Shylock in his anguished plea for Jews to be considered human ("Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections; fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons..."), and by Portia, in her plea for mercy for Antonio on the part of Shylock ("...though justice be they plea, consider this, that in the course of justice we all must seee salvation, we all do pray for mercy, and that same prayer doth teach us all to render the deed of mercy"), captured as well as can be a moral quandry that society continues to struggle with hundreds of years later.
While "The Merchant of Venice" has been criticized for its portrayal of the Jewish Shylock -- a portrayal that can be considered antisemitic -- Shakespeare did an admirable job of presenting the central moral dilemma of the play, compassion versus vengeance. In so doing, he has bequethed to history a work that has justifiably survived the passage of time.
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