I have just seen a performance of William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice. Isn't it surprising and amazing that a play written 500 years ago can have significance in the year 2008? The same holds true for Othello and so many other plays and characters within the Bard's portfolio.
Shylock, the Jew, is not the Merchant of Venice. Antonio, who comes to borrow 3,000 ducats for three months from Shylock, is the merchant. Antonio has berated Shylock in public and spit on him, but Antonio comes to the Jew when he needs money. When Shylock reminds Antonio of his insults, Antonio states simply that he will probably do it again.
What forces are driving Shylock to loan this money?
Eventually, they go to a notary and sign a deal.
Antonio has many ships at sea and he hopes they will come into Venice and bring him a fortune. He is confident that he will not have to pay Shylock a pound of his "fair" flesh for the 3,000 ducats he looks to borrow.
When Antonio's ships do not arrive and he defaults, he and Shylock enter the court of the Duke to satisfy the debt. Everyone pleads with Shylock to show mercy, humane gentleness and love. Shylock is offered twice the debt - 6,000 ducats - from friends of Antonio, yet he refuses as the loan agreement says he may.
Rooting for Shylock in this terrible situation is like rooting for the Indians in a Western movie. You know they are bound to lose. Why does Shylock refuse double the amount he has loaned and still demand the pound of flesh - the forfeiture payment?
Is it the centuries of Jews being disgraced and treated like outcasts? Is it because of being confined to ghettos with Jewish markings? Is it the lack of mercy and charity being shown Jews?
Why should Jews show lenience when they are degraded and made second-class people?
"The quality of mercy is not strained" is recited to Shylock to persuade him not to seek the penalty of the agreement. He has seen very little of Christian charity in his lifetime. Shylock replies, "I crave the law, the penalty and forfeit of my bond."
Why does he seem to be evil, to look for revenge for being wronged? Is it not a natural tendency of all men, Christian and Jew, to offer good for good and seek revenge for being disgraced and wronged?
Shylock loses on a technicality. He can take his pound of flesh, but no blood. Shakespeare gives him the business - his fortune is forfeited - half to Antonio and half to the state and he must convert to Christianity.
I must admit I was rooting for the villain.