The Merchant of Venice and Culture

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In The Merchant Of Venice, a play by William Shakespeare, one of the most notable aspects of the play is the large differences between Shylock and Antonio in culture and in personality. The biggest contrast between the two, and the reason behind their blind rage for each other, is their religion; Antonio is a Christian and Shylock is Jewish. Yet despite these huge differences, when analyzed further, it can be seen that these two men have a lot more in common than it seems.

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The play is written in a way that, in the beginning, paints Shylock as a greedy and sour type of character, even his name refers to a poisonous plant, while Antonio is seen as a compassionate and yet depressed character, resulting in the start of their artificial arguments. Yet, even in the beginning, when their differences are seen most, one similarity can be extracted from it; both where willing to die for revenge on one another. While Shylock and Antonio do have many distinctions in terms of their culturalist and ideal part of life, they also have similarities that are only exposed by their own personal use of the universal feeling of revenge against each other.

Antonio and Shylocks differences were mainly down to their cultural upbringing and their core moralistic beliefs. Shylock’s greed for money was against Antonios Christian point of view as he believed that money should be loaned and gifted when in need. Shylock expressed his distaste in this quality when he said, “I hate him for he is a Christian, But more, for that in low simplicity he lends out money gratis, and brings down the rate of usance here with us in Venice (Act 1, Scene 3).” in Antonios viewpoint he was only doing what was right saying, “Shylock, albeit I neither lend nor borrow by taking nor by giving of excess (Act 1, Scene 3).” Even when time and time again Bassanio could not repay Antonio for his selfless act he still he asked for no compensation in return. Shylock, by contrast, even wanted interest on the money he was owed showing that he was trying to expose the situation to get the most amount of money he could regardless of Bassanio or Antonios situation. At first, he saw this to be an opportunity in terms of business and growing his true love for money. He says, without any hesitation or consultation about the deal “Three months from twelve; then let me see, the rate- (Act 1, Scene 3).” When Bassanio presented Shylock with the idea of a loan, both had different motives and perceptions on what the loan should be about, sparking the main feud between them.

Their stances on the use of money was not their only difference however. There lives were also very different. Antonio’s amiable presence is completely different than Shylocks, exemplified when he won over the people of the court only by his personality alone. Shylocks avaricious personality left him with only a few friends in life, however this did not seem to affect him personally as he was more attracted to money than to people. Naturally due to his generous attitude, Antonio has many who care for and support him as he would with Bassanio. The servant of Shylock named Launcelot Gobbo however, betrays him and switches sides showing Shylocks lack of loyalty in his life. He even lost his daughters loyalty when she also switched sides, going against her faith and knowing that her father had a strong hatred for Lorenzo and Christians in general. This contrast of popularity led to Shylocks demise but also revealed another difference in their personalities. Shylocks independent lifestyle left him alone and focused on material items whereas Antonios infectious personality molded him into a generous man to those who showed respect to him.

Despite these major differences they were united in one aspect; both characters had something to fight for, something or someone they cared deeply about. Shylock loved his money and his daughter while Antonio loved his friends. Antonio’s friendship with Bassanio is an example of his love for his close friends as he was even willing to get a pound of flesh cut out from his body only to help him pay back a debt of money. This was a selfless act in which Antonio had nothing to gain in the situation and yet did it any way to show his love for Bassanio. Naturally, Bassanio resisted Antonios noble act but Antonio stood firm stating, “Let me have judgment and the Jew his will (Act 4, Scene 1).” And, “Repent but you that you shall lose your friend, and he repents not that he pays your debt; for if the Jew do cut but deep enough, I’ll pay it instantly with all my heart (Act 4, Scene 1).” For Shylock this love was not for his friends like Antonio, but rather for his selfish attraction to money. At one point he even suggested that he would have his own life taken rather than the money that he acquired to get “stolen” from him. When the threat of losing his property and money was upon him Shylock responded with, “Nay, take my life and all, pardon not that: You take my house when you do take the prop that doth sustain my house; you take my life when you do take the means whereby I live (Act 4, Scene 2).” It seems as though Shylocks importance and meaning of life is dependant on the amount of money acquired in a lifetime. Although Shylock and Antonios self interests were both completely different, they would still both die for them, making their urgency for revenge almost exactly the same.

In the end, as Shylock and Antonios differing lifestyles clashed, exposing them to each others polarities, they created a hate for each other which ironically also uncovered their similarities.The whole conflict of the book details the two contrasting characters simply trying to protect and gain on what they love and responding to each others actions in a manner that is no more or no less just than that of each others. The cycle of revenge never lightens but only gets worse until eventually there is a breaking point. In this case Shylock was the victim of the breaking point only due to his personality, and not necessarily due to true justice. Due to our upbringings us humans experience situations that make us unique and different and yet no matter how divergent, humans will always share their instinctive urges. Humans at one point or another will all act the same instinctively when threatened. It gets boiled down to two options; fight or flight. Both Antonio and Shylock chose to fight.

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The Merchant of Venice and culture. (2019, Nov 24). Retrieved from