The treatment of Shylock in The Merchant of Venice has long been a controversial issue.In the context of the play, Shylock hates Antonio and seeks his revenge in an unusual and even garish way by demanding a pound of flesh.Any villain would be seen as extremely villainous for that sort of behavior, but the villainy of Shylock has been tied to the idea that the play is saying his villainy derives from his being Jewish.In fact, such a view ignores the comic nature of the play itself and also the way Shakespeare gives Shylock real motivations for his actions and treats him more as a human being than would be likely if this were an anti-Semitic stance.
First, Shylock in The Merchant of Venice has a number of reasons for hating Antonio and for seeking revenge on him and those Shylock sees as like him.Shylock is a Jew, and he believes he is shunned and hated by Christians.This alone differentiates his treatment in the play from an anti-Semitic rant, for Shakespeare recognizes that society does often demonize the Jew and that such a judgment is unfair, so much so as to become a self-fulfilling prophecy.He further discovers that his daughter, Jessica, has eloped with Lorenzo and intends to convert to Christianity herself.These events come on the heels of all the other reasons he detests Antonio–because Antonio lends money and does not charge interest, because Antonio has denigrated him in the past, and because Antonio is a Christian. Tubal is his friend and brings him news that Antonio’s ship has disappeared.He also has been asked to find out about Jessica but at this point has learned nothing new.
Shylock speaks of everything in terms of money, and this includes his daughter:”A diamond gone, cost me two thousand ducats in Frankfort!” (III.i.77).The news that his daughter has not been found is coupled here with news that Antonio’s ship has been lost, linking his anger over his daughter with the man he will try to …