PORTIA What mercy can you render him, Antonio?
GRATIANO A halter gratis, nothing else, for God’s sake.
The antagonist of this play is Shylock, a man whose largest crime is being a Jew amongst the Christians. However, in today’s world, his character is more of a reflection of antisemitism during the Shakespearean era than a villain. In fact, most readers would sympathize with this victim of his circumstances. After all, he was only acting under the law when he wanted a pound of flesh. However, there is speculation on whether this play is actually antisemitic as commentary on antisemitism in the culture. Earlier in Act III, Shylock rages on about Antonio had “disgraced” and “hindered” him “half a million,” “laughed at [his] losses, mocked at [his] gains, scorned [his] nation” and such. And the only reason for this behavior is because Shylock is a Jew. Shylock continues to rant about the similarities of Jews and all humans: “Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions?” This humanizing Jews rant is out of place with how the play portrays Shylock as an evil Jew. As a person in the 21st century, I couldn’t but help feel remorse for Shylock when he was forced by the court to convert to Christianity. I wonder if that remorse came from having a historical understanding of the treatment of the Jews or because Shakespeare intended for you to care about Shylock.