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The Merchant Of Venice Act 1 Scene 3 Essay

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Bassanio finds Shylock, a Jewish lender of the town and has proposed a loan of three-thousand ducats for a period of three months on Antonio's credit.  Shylock says he knows Antonio's credit is good and aside he mentions his reasons for hating Antonio: he spits on Shylock, publicly humiliates him, and lends money without interest, driving down the rates for Shylock's own business.  Antonio says he doesn't usually borrow or lend with interest because it isn't Christian, he makes the exception for Bassanio.  When Shylock confronts Antonio about his mistreatment of him in the past, Antonio says he will continue to disrespect Shylock.  It is Antonio's belief that the money is better lent to an enemy than a friend, "Who if he break, thou mayst with better face/ Exact the penalty. (I.iii.136)." The final agreement is at Shylock's suggestion, the forfeiture if the loan is not repaid within three months will be one pound of Antonio's flesh, taken by Shylock.  Antonio agrees to this freely, expecting over three times the sum he owes to return with his ships within two months.  Antonio's final comment is that the Hebrew will turn Christian, suggesting that his "kindness" was a Christian attribute.

Shylock agrees to do business with Bassanio and Antonio, but he says he won't eat, drink, or pray with them. This seems a bit rude. When Antonio approaches, Shylock says that he hates Antonio "because he is a Christian." At this point, it seems that Shylock's problem with Antonio is based on his being a Christian. But then he adds that he hates Antonio for lending out money with no interest. Shylock claims that this...

Shylock agrees to do business with Bassanio and Antonio, but he says he won't eat, drink, or pray with them. This seems a bit rude. When Antonio approaches, Shylock says that he hates Antonio "because he is a Christian." At this point, it seems that Shylock's problem with Antonio is based on his being a Christian. But then he adds that he hates Antonio for lending out money with no interest. Shylock claims that this practice of lending with no interest drives down the interest of other businessmen (Shylock included). He also claims that Antonio has insulted him for participating in usury (lending money with high interest). Shylock says "Cursed be my tribe" (his fellow Jews and ancestors of Israel) if he would forgive Antonio for insulting him. 

Antonio never lends or even borrows money in which interest is involved. After initially agreeing to do business with Bassanio, Shylock backtracks and asks why he would lend money to someone (Antonio) who just last Wednesday was insulting him in the Marketplace. Shylock comes up with the plan to take a pound of Antonio's flesh if the debt is not repaid on time. 

From this information, some conclusions can be made about Shylock, but nothing definitive in the sense that Antonio is the good guy and Shylock is the bad guy. Shylock does hold a lot of animosity towards Antonio and this seems to be personal and a matter of religion and/or culture. But Antonio says the feeling is mutual and that they don't have to be friends in order to conduct business. So they are both guilty of racism (race in terms of Jewish and Christian culture). Shylock appears to be the greedier of the two since he charges high interest on his loans whereas Antonio charges no interest. But then again, it is Shylock's money and his choice to charge interest. Shylock's plan to take a pound of flesh if the debt is not repaid seems barbaric but he claims it is all for fun: a "merry sport." 

Shylock is a complex character. He certainly has his bad traits, but if he has been mistreated as he says, simply for being Jewish or for being a shrewd businessman, then the reader might sympathize with him. Note that in this scene, Antonio tells Bassanio that Shylock will quote scripture like a devil in order to make his point. One might get the sense that Shylock's ways are devilish but also come to the conclusion that Antonio, Bassanio, and others categorize Shylock as a devil regardless of his behavior. Just as Shylock hates Bassanio for being a Christian, it seems that Antonio hates Shylock for being Jewish. Shylock is a complex character. First time readers might be surprised to find that they will sympathize with him and condemn him at the same time. 

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