The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare

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Fully discuss the relationship between Antonio and Shylock focusing on their religious beliefs and their approach to business. act 1

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merehughes eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Shylock and Antonio resent and dislike one another. Firstly, Shylock hates Antonio because he is a Christian; secondly, because Antonio is a Christian and therefore not allowed to charge interest, Antonio undercuts Shylock’s business by lending money without charging interest. The fact that Shylock does loan money and charges interest is another reason for Antonio not to like him. As a businessman, Antonio must resent Shylock's ability to earn extra money by charging interest.

Because Shylock is a Jew and lends money charging interest, Antonio feels morally superior towards him. He uses any opportunity to show his scorn and publicly humiliate Shylock. This leads to Shylock resenting and hating Antonio even more.

Antonio for example has publicly spit on Shylock. When Shylock sees an opportunity to take revenge on Antonio he takes it. The both engage in trying to annoy the other. For example, to close the deal with Shylock, Antonio invites him dinner. Shylock refuses with the reason that he is Jewish and the food would not be kosher (Jews don't eat pork) however, it is seen as a social slight to not even come and be present.

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gbeatty eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Hmm. The relationship between Antonio and Shylock stretches beyond Act I, but if we limit ourselves to that act, we see the following:
Antonio needs Shylock, and, to a lesser degree, Shylock needs Antonio. There is therefore some degree of mutuality. They are also similar in that Antonio makes a point of saying he has not put all of his investments aboard one boat, but has spread the risk. Likewise, Shylock loans to many people. In these areas they are similar.

However, they are also similar in their dislike for one another, which is based in part on their religions, or at least, on the prejudices their time educates into them regarding their religions. Both also put on something of a false front when dealing with one another.

We know that Shylock drops this false front when alone, and that Antonio drops it when with Bassiano and Gratiano. When Antonio is with Bassiano, we see different motives for investment. Shylock lends money almost maliciously; he seeks to have people (at least Antonio) at his mercy. Bassiano asks for money due to friendship, and Antonio stands for it. They have, therefore, different motives in all of this.

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