How can the character figure of Shylock define his class identity in The Merchant of Venice?
There are both nobles and commoners in The Merchant of Venice. Commoners were more wealthy and knowledgeable. How can Shylock define his identity; would it be as a commoner or a nobleman?
There seems to be a little confusion about the nature of commoners and nobles. First, the only nobles entering into the story line of The Merchant of Venice are Morocco, a prince of Morocco vying for Portia's hand in marriage; Aragon, another of Portia's suitors; and the Duke of Venice, the ruler of Venice. A noble is defined as a person in an hereditary class who therefore has special social, political and governing status in a country. None of the central characters in the play are of the nobility. Commoners are any persons not having hereditary right of nobility, which is a strictly hereditary social class.
While it is possible for nobility to "fall" and lose most or all of their wealth, this is not represented as being the case with any of the nobility (three) in The Merchant of Venice. The nobility in the play are engaged in trying to win a bride who is wealthy in her own right, though not of the nobility, and in governing the city of Venice. It must be concluded that these three representatives of the nobility are extremely wealthy.
Shylock and Antonio are merchants in Venice and Bassanio is a gentleman (a class of commoner below nobility and above merchant) who has no money at the moment. Merchants may be wealthy, but their wealth is dependent on their business of selling goods and services, possibly importing and selling goods--merchandising. Gentlemen have inherited fortunes, usually from past generations' farming of large estates, that collect interest that is used for expenses of elegant living. Bassanio's wealth, though not available at the moment of the play, is what qualifies him as an eligible suitor for Portia's hand.
So even though merchants and gentlemen have wealth, they generally do not have more wealth than the nobility and their wealth is tied in one way or another to work. Shylock is properly identified as a commoner who is a successful and wealthy merchant who deals in the selling of money that is lent for a high fee called interest (a practice our banks and credit cards make us all too familiar with).