I have never read The Merchant of Venice before, and I am not quite sure what to make of it's plot so far. I find myself to be apparently like many other classmates in feeling both strangely sympathetic toward Shylock and strangely dumbfounded by Portia's father's game. I also find myself saying, “What did I just read?” quite often. There are certain nuances of the dialogue which both startle me, but make me think. For example, after Shylock laments how his peers spit on him and call him names for being a Jewish (speaking generally but also specifically of Antonio), Antonio responds with force and wickedness.
ANTONIO: I am as like to call thee so again,
To spit on thee again, to spurn thee too.
If thou wilt lend this money, lend it not
As to thy friends; for when did friendship take
A breed for barren metal of his friend?
But lend it rather to thine enemy,
Who if he break, though mayst with better face
Exact the penalty. (1.3.125-132)
To me, the entire context of this situation seems to be part of an all too easily-created bias towards Jewish money lenders. It is against the Christian religion to charge interest on loans, however it is a profit-earning practice that makes sense when realistically dealing with large sums of money. Why would anyone lend so much to someone without there being anything in it for their peace of mind? There needs to be an incentive for someone to be timely with repayment, and it sounds to me like the rule of not charging interest is an outdated one meant for those like shepherds lending tools to neighbors instead of business men like Shylock and Antonio lending money to Bassonio. Now, that is not to say that when a close friend asks for a small to medium amount (less than a day's or even up to a week's worth of profit), I will never think of charging him interest, but when dealing with strangers, that is just an impractical standard to uphold for a merchant. But going back to my injection-of-religious-bias point, I feel like Antonio is acting manipulatively with his beliefs in order to discredit Shylock's character in front of his counterparts/his audience. It seems to me like an easy way for Christians to say, in essence, “look at your evil practices, you are morally unjust and greedy, and I am neither of those things because I am a Christian.” Further, we see more bias coming from Antonio later:
ANTONIO: Hie thee, gentle Jew.
The Hebrew will turn Christian; he grows kind. (1.3.173-174)
We see two things being stated here: that Jews are not inherently gentle or inherently kind, and that Christians inherently are both. Antonio refers to Shylock as a gentle Jew as opposed to just a Jew (and instead of calling him by his actual name), forcing us to think not of Shylock the person, but of Shylock the Gentle Jew who has the ability within himself to perhaps be more Christian and righteous someday.
I do not think it is easy for me like Antonio.