To what extent is Shylock defined by his Jewishness? To what extent is he defined by his profession?

  • Post author:
  • Post last modified:June 23, 2017

Is Shylock a Jew or a moneylender? To what extent is Shylock defined by his Jewishness? To what extent is he defined by his profession?

Shylock is defined by both his Jewishness and his profession.  He is as much of a Jew as he is a money lender. Neither would he compromise on his business principles and nor on his Jewish values. He would not dine with a  Christian and is unwilling to change his methods of business. It is logical for him to extract profit from his  money.  When Bassanio asks him to dine with him and Antonio, he curtly replies,

“Yes—to smell pork, to eat of the habitation which your prophet the Nazarite conjured the devil into. I will buy with you, sell with you, talk with you, walk with you, and so following, but I will not eat with you, drink with you, nor pray with you. What news on the Rialto? Who is he comes here?” Act 1, scene 3).

He is just as shrewd and cunning a business man as he is a devout Jew.  Both his religion and his business matter to him and whether it is on the religious matters or in terms of business, he would not rely on a Christian. He hates Antonio for he is a Christian  but more than that he hates him for he lends money without charging any interest. However, Shylock is not an ordinary Jew and neither an ordinary business man. What could be more cunning and greedy than a money lender Jew. Shakespeare has prepared a cruel but perfect mixture of traits for Shylock’s character. He weighs his options fully before doing business with anyone. Before agreeing to lend Bassanio the money, he reminds Antonio of his treatment of the Jew in past. He cites scriptures and plays an elaborate drama just to set the stage for his inhuman contract.  He is just as heartless as a Jew as he is greedy as a money lender. In this way, he sets the trap for Antonio by challenging his self respect and persuading him to sign the bloody contract. He is brilliant at negotiations and his hatred of the Christians can clearly be felt throughout the drama until he is forced to convert by law.

He acts meek but everyone knows how big a villain he is inside. Whether heads or tails, he knows he is going to win.  He cleverly sets the game in his own favor. Overall, he knows all the tactics of a clever businessman.  Even while doing business he does not stop being a Jew. If the question is that  whether he is a Jew or a businessman first, then he can manages to be both at the same time. He cleverly relates business with religion and tries to convince Antonio that managing good profits on your money is not a bad practice.

“The skillful shepherd peeled me certain wands.
And in the doing of the deed of kind
He stuck them up before the fulsome ewes,
Who then conceiving did in eaning time
Fall parti-colored lambs—and those were Jacob’s.
This was a way to thrive, and he was blessed.
And thrift is blessing, if men steal it not”.
When Antonio has failed to repay the loan, Shylock is unwilling to sway from his position. He is trying top prove himself a true Jew who has been spat upon and who will not let a chance of revenge go. Till the end, he is unwilling to change his stance.  Still, he does not fail to impress whether as a Jew or as a moneylender wants us readers to be fair to him.  He considers what he is doing to Antonio is justified because he is a Christian who has been unkind to Jews. However, more than that Antonio is guilty of being a competitor who is less greedy and lends without interest.  His kindness has caused the Jew infamy. At his heart Shylock is a Jew, and has the emotions of a Jew. However, his profession also defines the life he lives. While being  a money lender he cannot forget his religion. He cannot therefore stop hating the Christians who frequently get to bear the ire of his criticism. Seeing the money lender as distinct from the Jew is difficult.
” Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? Fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer as a Christian is? (Act 3, Scene 1)”
He is disgusted at how Jews are treated in Venice. Even in the court he is unwilling to let his three thousand ducats go. He asks the court to let him have his principle  and  go. Even at a time where he knows his crime has been uncovered he does not wish to let his money go. These things show he is both a  Jew and a businessman. However, whether it is business or religion that comes first for him  is difficult to tell because he remains equally serious about each.

Abhijeet Pratap

Abhijeet has been blogging on educational topics and business research since 2016. He graduated with a Hons. in English literature from BRABU and an MBA from the Asia-Pacific Institute of Management, New Delhi. He likes to blog and share his knowledge and research in business management, marketing, literature and other areas with his readers.