­How does Shylock face grave injustice at the hands of Antonio and his friends in The Merchant of Venice?

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Chase Burns eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Shylock is a character within Shakespeare's play The Merchant of Venice, and is one of the most famous characters in all of Shakespeare's canon. Shylock is a Jewish moneylender in Venice and provides unique insight into how Jews were treated in Elizabethan England. Originally, Shylock was created as a villain, but he is now seen as a sympathetic character.

At the end of The Merchant of Venice, Shylock is ordered to surrender half of his wealth to the state and half of his wealth to Antonio. However, Antonio decides to show Shylock mercy and changes the verdict. By Antonio, Shylock is required to bequeath all his property and immediately convert to Christianity. This latter portion is the grave injustice Shylock suffers, as he is required to give up his faith and commit to the dominant religion. During the period the play was produced, these requirements were seen as comedic, but it is difficult to interpret these terms as anything but tragic when the play is produced in contemporary times. 

Historically, Jewish people were not allowed to legally be a part of society in England. Consequently, many of the representations of Jewish people were derived from stereotypes. The stereotypical representation of a Jew was that he was a moneylender, and Jews were typically represented as miserly.