The Merchant of Venice

by William Shakespeare
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Why did Shylock nurse a grudge against Antonio?

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Shylock clearly spells out his reasons for hating Antonio . He compares him to a “fawning publican,” indicating he sees Antonio as sanctimonious and hypocritical. On top of that, Antonio is Christian, while Shylock is Jewish. Antonio does not need to survive on usury, so he gives or lends money...

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Shylock clearly spells out his reasons for hating Antonio. He compares him to a “fawning publican,” indicating he sees Antonio as sanctimonious and hypocritical. On top of that, Antonio is Christian, while Shylock is Jewish. Antonio does not need to survive on usury, so he gives or lends money without charging interest. This “brings down / The rate of usance” for moneylenders like Shylock who make a living by charging interest. Antonio is also bad for business because “he rails, / Even there where merchants most do congregate, / On me [Shylock], my bargains and my well-won thrift.”

Most abhorrent to modern audiences is Antonio’s antisemitism. Shylock remarks that Antonio hates Jews, having called Shylock “misbeliever, cut-throat dog,” spat upon him, and kicked him. Instead of denying this, Antonio threatens to do it again. He compares Shylock to the devil and says that nothing is harder than “His Jewish heart.” It is true that Shylock fulfills many antisemitic characteristics, being greedy, duplicitous, and hard-hearted, but Antonio’s behavior makes Shylock’s grudge against him understandable.

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