Shylock is a complex character, one of many in Shakespeare’s plays. One cursory glance at Shakespeare’s oeuvre tells us that there are very few characters who are absolutely wicked or as pure as the driven snow. And this remarkable talent for complex characterization is just one of the many things that makes Shakespeare the world’s greatest dramatist.
In truth, Shylock is neither completely villain nor completely villain, but a combination of both. Shylock is very much the villain of the piece, and is intended to be so, and yet he still manages to earn the audience’s sympathy. This is because he is a daily victim of anti-Semitism. As a Jew in a Christian city, Shylock is routinely subject to all manner of insults, humiliations, and legal disabilities. Inevitably, this makes him feel bitter and restful towards Christians.
Making such a vindictive bargain, according to which Antonio must forfeit a pound of flesh if he cannot pay Shylock back the money he borrowed from him, is Shylock’s...
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