Merchant of Venice
It's not a book, but it's a work of literature, and arguably one of the greatest of all time. It explores deep and spiritual themes, often plunging the depths of the human character and finding some truly startling things. Shakespeare was, and is, the greatest writer, certainly with regards to exploring the human condition. Deep, spiritual, complex and astonishignly sophisticated, you are the Merchant of Venice.
Your intellignece is formidable, but you realise that life is about more than that. Material wealth is something you could attain relatively easily, as is critical and social acclaim, but your deep and complex emoitonal understanding of the world around you has taught you that ultimately life is about loving, crying, dancing, laughing and being alive. Where others concern themselves with how to get rich, or powerful, you concern yourself with the nourishment and growth of the human spirit. You are a true artist.
This play is perhaps most famous for it's Shylock character. Although critics tend to agree that Shylock is The Merchant of Venices most noteworthy figure, no consensus has been reached on whether to read him as a bloodthirsty bogeyman, a clownish Jewish stereotype, or a tragic figure whose sense of decency has been fractured by the persecution he endures.
Certainly, Shylock is the plays antagonist, and he is menacing enough to seriously imperil the -happiness of Venices businessmen and young lovers alike. Shylock is also, however, a creation of circumstance; even in his single-minded pursuit of a pound of flesh, his frequent mentions of the cruelty he has endured at Christian hands make it hard for us to label him a natural born monster.
In one of Shakespeares most famous monologues, for example, Shylock argues that Jews are humans and calls his quest for vengeance the product of lessons taught to him by the cruelty of Venetian citizens. On the other hand, Shylocks coldly calculated attempt to revenge the wrongs done to him by murdering his persecutor, Antonio, prevents us from viewing him in a primarily positive light. Shakespeare gives us unmistakably human moments, but he often steers us against Shylock as well, painting him as a miserly, cruel, and prosaic figure.
On the surface, the main difference between the Christian characters and Shylock appears to be that the Christian characters value human relationships over business ones, whereas Shylock is only interested in money. The Christian characters certainly view the matter this way.
Merchants like Antonio lend money free of interest and put themselves at risk for those they love, whereas Shylock agonizes over the loss of his money and is reported to run through the streets crying, O, my ducats! O, my daughter! (II.viii.15). With these words, he apparently values his money at least as much as his daughter, suggesting that his greed outweighs his love. However, upon closer inspection, this supposed difference between Christian and Jew breaks down.
When we see Shylock in Act III, scene i, he seems more hurt by the fact that his daughter sold a ring that was given to him by his dead wife before they were married than he is by the loss of the rings monetary value. Some human relationships do indeed matter to Shylock more than money. Moreover, his insistence that he have a pound of flesh rather than any amount of money shows that his resentment is much stronger than his greed.
Just as Shylocks character seems hard to pin down, the Christian characters also present an inconsistent picture. Though Portia and Bassanio come to love one another, Bassanio seeks her hand in the first place because he is monstrously in debt and needs her money. Bassanio even asks Antonio to look at the money he lends Bassanio as an investment, though Antonio insists that he lends him the money solely out of love. In other words, Bassanio is anxious to view his relationship with Antonio as a matter of business rather than of love.
Finally, Shylock eloquently argues that Jews are human beings just as Christians are, but Christians such as Antonio hate Jews simply because they are Jews. Thus, while the Christian characters may talk more about mercy, love, and charity, they are not always consistent in how they display these qualities.
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