In The Merchant of Venice by Shakespeare, what are Shylock's positive traits?

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appletrees eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It may be difficult to imagine the character of Shylock as having any positive traits, since his agreement with Antonio allows him to essentially murder him for failure to pay a debt. But most dramatic characters of any significance have positive as well as negative traits; without the ability to have some sort of empathy for an "evil" character, their evil seems two-dimensional. Shylock is a clever and successful man; these may be seen as positive traits, even as his success as a moneylender makes him greedy and somewhat difficult to deal with. Shylock is also a father who is devastated when his daughter Jessica elopes with Lorenzo. His emotional distress indicates that he does have some compassion and emotions worth sympathizing with. He is further devastated when Portia, posing as a doctor of law, finds him guilty in court of cheating a Venetian resident (Antonio) and claims he must surrender his fortune as punishment. Since he is a moneylender and values wealth, this is a fitting price to pay; however he is told he can keep half his fortune to give to his daughter if he renounces his Jewish faith and becomes a Christian. Shylock finds this horrifying, which demonstrates his loyalty to his religious faith; this can also be seen as a positive trait.