I totally don’t get this one. What are you trying to say here Shakespeare? Because on the face of it, this is just another medieval antisemitic story, in which the big bad Jews are thwarted in their attempts to corrupt and/or kill the benevolent Christians. But Shakespeare subverts it to such a level that its impossible to tell if he’s serious or not. After all, Shylock is portrayed with genuine grievances, a cause which is technically correct, and with a large degree of sympathy. The benevolent Christians are also portrayed as duplicitous, deceitful, and intolerant. So what is actually being said here?
Shylock is the stereotype of all medieval Christianity considered the Otherness of the Jews. He is small, petty, ugly, covetous, mean-spirited and full of malevolent intent. Yet he gets his “Hath not a Jew eyes” speech, he describes the numerous ways he has been wronged and been denied any just redress. He now seeks for an unjust one, but only after years of provocation. He is seen as being slowly destroyed over the course of the play, first through the betrayal of his daughter as she elopes, converts and steals half his wealth, then as his case is turned against him in court and he is sentenced to die if he should not be forcibly converted to Christianity and will his wealth to his daughter’s husband upon his death. That way the Christians get his wealth, his daughter and his very identity, all because he dared to try to treat a Christian in a manner the Christians would not hesitate to treat a Jew.
Bassanio, who is the hero of the piece along with Antonio, is the obvious noble Christian romantic, beloved and respected by his friends and his wife-to-be. Yet he is also a feckless debtor who, having pissed Antonio’s money up against the wall in the past, allows his best friend to put his life in the hands of a man he knows hates him, just so he can have the cash to marry a rich heiress so he can be flush again. Dickhead. Unsurprisingly, promising a pound of your flesh to someone who hates your guts goes horribly wrong.
Antonio equally is the esteemed man-about-town. Yet he’s an insufferable smug prick. One more scene of his condescending tone and I would have been asking for a pound of his flesh. Also, he is vocally antisemitic. He admits to fucking up business deals for Shylock, making life as difficult as possible for him, cursing him and his people. Shylock reminds him that he spat on him, kicked him and called him a dog. Antonio doesn’t seem particularly concerned or repentant. Apparently part of being a good Christian is being a total dick to your neighbours. And Jesus said, “Fuck thy neighbour. He’s almost certainly an asshole.” Jesus being . . . uh . . . Catholic since birth.
Even Portia sticks her oar in. She’s supposed to be this virtuous and clever maiden. Her virtue extends to perjuring herself by speaking in court under a false identity in order to ensure her hubby-to-be gets his way.
With all this justice going on, it’s easy to see why Shylock is sick of these smug bastards.
So I dunno, what is he saying? Answers on a postcard.