In William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, is Shylock justified in seeking revenge from Antonio?
Whether the character of Shylock is justified in "seeking revenge" on Antonio is a matter of perspective. William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice is replete with intimations of racial or ethnic hostility, as the Jewish moneylender is repeatedly on the receiving end of instances of anti-Semitic abuse. In the play's early scenes, it is clear that Shylock is deeply imbued with a sense of animosity toward Shakespeare's protagonists Antonio and Bassanio. The audience is not sensitized to the background of these relationships, so Shylocks early displays of hostility portray him in a particularly negative light. For example, take the following passages from Act I, Scene III. In the first, Shylock rejects Bassanio's invitation to join him and Antonio for dinner, prompting the following response:
Yes, to smell pork; to eat of the habitation which your prophet the Nazarite conjured the devil into. I will buy with you, sell with you, talk with you, walk with you, and so following, but I will not eat with you, drink with you, nor pray with you.
And, soon after, Bassanio introduces Shylock to Antonio, although it is clear that the two individual are already well-known to each other:
BASSANIOThis is Signior Antonio.
[Aside] How like a fawning publican he looks!
I hate him for he is a Christian,
But more for that in low simplicity
He lends out money gratis and brings down
The rate of usance here with us in Venice.
So it is established early on that Shylock loathes Antonio and Bassanio, but it is only with the following comments by Shylock that the audience begins to understand the roots of these sentiments:
Signior Antonio, many a time and oft
In the Rialto you have rated me
About my moneys and my usances:
Still have I borne it with a patient shrug,
For sufferance is the badge of all our tribe.
You call me misbeliever, cut-throat dog,
And spit upon my Jewish gaberdine,
And all for use of that which is mine own.
Well then, it now appears you need my help:
Go to, then; you come to me, and you say
'Shylock, we would have moneys:'...
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