“The Merchant of Venice” is concerned with two troubles that have been of significance in the Elizabethan Age: Jewry and Usury. It is commonly assumed that the Elizabethan attitude to Jewry was hostile and that the execution of Roderigo Lopez in 1594 was characteristic of the Christian rejection of all ‘Jews, Turks, Infidels and Heretics’, who have been thought of to be “misbelievers”. But this could also be a false assumption, for although the Jews were forced to convert to Christianity to reside in England, as soon as they did they have been usually left alone. Marlowe in “The Jew of Malta” portrays a Machiavellian Jew, but one particular who is ‘rarely mean’ in his villainy. Usury was a modern and important situation throughout Shakespeare’s time. Shylock is the damaging and stereotype picture of the usurer that most of the Elizabethans had- one who was seen as a ‘greedy dog’, ‘a leech’.
The interpretation of Shylock’s character is hard and also to some extent ambiguous. He was earlier portrayed as a comic character but later on could be interpreted as a malevolent villain. But if Shylock is taken as a comic character the whole energy of the play is lost. He would nearly become a ridiculous villain. It could also be that Shakespeare produced Shylock as a match for Marlowe’s Jew- one particular that was terrible, imposing but also human.
Shylock is one particular of the key characters of the play but this also depends on the way that his character is played. He has mostly been portrayed as a comic character but when he is the tragic protagonist he ‘usurps the center of the stage.’ Shylock “represents the killjoy against whom the pleasure-loving characters unite.” He represents a “a-social miserliness” and as a result his villainy is somewhat mitigated and brought inside the scope of humanist debate. Shylock exists as a visible complication to the smooth running of Bassanio’s friendship with Antonio and his courtship of Portia. 1 can virtually say that is the character that makes the plot feasible.
As John Palmer has mentioned, Shylock is “An imaginative realization of what it indicates to put on the Star of David.” Shylock is a Jew in a Gentile Society, an alien who is by no means accepted. He is proud of his race, his religion but he is up against a Venetian society that is insufferable to the outsider. Even his daughter attacks all that he holds…