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.