In Merchant of Venice, is Shylock justified in seeking revenge from Antonio?

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scarletpimpernel | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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From a moral standpoint, one could argue that Shylock should not seek revenge because as a follower of Old Testament law he should leave vengeance or revenge to God.

However, from a human nature standpoint, Shylock has legitimate motivation for seeking revenge from Antonio (who also represents Christianity in Venice).  Here are several offenses that Shylock has had to endure at the hands of Antonio and other "Christians."

1. As a Jew, he is segretated by Venetian law from the other city's residents.

2. Antonio has spit and cursed Shylock in public.

3. Antonio publicly criticizes Shylock, hurting his business.

4. A "Christian" steals away his only child (Jessica) and his jewels (his most prized possessions).

At the play's end, Shakespeare certainly demonstrates that seeking revenge is not only fruitless but also that it has destructive consequences, but most modern audience members feel sympathy for the broken Shylock in Act 4 and can identify with his reasons for wanting revenge.

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