In ShakespeareÆs The Merchant of Venice, Shylock is often perceived as a greedy and unscrupulous businessman without compassion for others. His demands for the ôpound of fleshö owed him, are often used as evidence of his bloodthirsty greed. However, when taking a close look at the character of Shylock, we see that this perception of him does not mesh with the circumstances of his situation. The fact that Shylock desires exactly what was promised him, does not make him a villain. In fact, Thomas Moisan argues that Shylock is a ôscapegoatö who takes ôthe blame for whatever is wrong with the economic system,ö (Rosenheim p. 156). This analysis will explore the character of Shylock in order to demonstrate the typical perception of him as only cruel and greedy is invalid.
A case can be made that Shylock appears to be greedy and lacking in compassion when he demands his pound of flesh in lieu of payment for the loan he made to Antonio, ôThe pound of flesh, which I demand of him, / Is dearly bought; ætis mine, and I will have it: / It you deny me, fie upon your law!ö (Shakespeare IV.I.115-117). As cruel and greedy as this might make Shylock appear, with knowledge of the events leading up to his demand we view him in a more sympathetic manner.
Shylock and Antonio are adversaries, primarily because Shylock detests AntonioÆs willingness to lend money without charging interest. Antonio insults Shylock and even spits on him. While Shylock does admit to his dislike for Antonio, he dislikes him for more than the fact that Antonio is Christian and he, himself, is Jewish. He also dislikes Antonio because he depresses the loan market, causing Shylock to lose potential profits from higher interest rates, ôI 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,ö (Shakespeare I.iii.40