A Jewish money-lender in William Shakespeare‘s The Merchant of Venice.
Shylock ruthlessly insists on receiving a previously agreed on “pound of flesh” when Antonio’s expected fortunes vanish, forcing him to default on a loan.
Some critics suggest that Shakespeare paints a dangerous, anti-Semitic picture. Others defend Shakespeare, citing Shylock’s cutting speech as evidence that he presents not a one-dimensional but, rather, a complex human character:
Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions?..If you prick us, do we not bleed? if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison us, do we not die?
Later, Shylock is outwitted by Portia disguised as a lawyer. After unsuccessfully appealing to Shylock’s humanity, Portia insists that he be allowed to remove Antonio’s flesh on the condition that not one drop of blood is carved from his body. “This bond doth give thee here not a jot of blood” (Act 4 Scene 1).
Realizing he has been legally outdone, Shylock lightens up and the potentially grisly tale ends happily.
The fact that Portia is a woman points to Shakespeare’s progressiveness in the area of refuting sex-role stereotypes.
» Merchant of Venice, Reincarnation
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