In The Merchant of Venice, it seems that William Shakespeare often invites the audience to feel hatred towards Shylock, but perhaps William Shakespeare means to invite the audience to feel the opposite. Shylock is shown as someone who is incredibly money hungry, materialistic, and only cares about his ducats rather than the fact that his own daughter, Jessica, has abandoned him for a Christian fellow named Lorenzo. Throughout The Merchant of Venice, it is easy to see why one would think of Shylock as the symbol of the devil, but perhaps William Shakespeare intended for Shylock to be portrayed as the misunderstood victim.
It is evident throughout the play that Shylock is a victim of a form of racism, namely anti-Semitism. At the start of The Merchant of Venice, it is revealed in Act 1, Scene 3 that Antonio mistreated him in the past. Shylock recalls how Antonio “rated [him] About [his] moneys and [his] usances” (1.3.105-106), while also calling him a “misbeliever, cutthroat dog,/ And [spitted] upon [his] Jewish gabardine” (1.3.107-108). Shylock is mistreated by Antonio solely because he is Jewish. Antonio insults him about his money lending and religion. Antonio spitting on his Jewish clothes in the past shows disrespect towards Shylock because he spits on Shylock’s clothes as if they are nothing. Shylock also experiences racism near the end of the play during court when he is treated badly and looked down upon everyone, such as the Duke. The Duke calls Shylock an “inhumane wretch” (4.1.4), but has no knowledge of the situation. The court session has just begun and no details of the situation have been released, yet the Duke discriminates Shylock already. At this point in the play, the Duke only knows that Shylock is Jewish, therefore he is only discriminating Shylock because he is Jewish. The Duke’s plea for mercy from Shylock during court also has hints of racism, such as line 36 in Act 4, Scene 1 “We all expect a gentle answer, Jew”. By his use of the word “gentle”, he literally means that they all expect a nice answer from Shylock. However, the word “gentle” simulates the word “gentile”, which means “not Jewish” or “a person who is not Jewish”, which means that he is also telling Shylock not to be Jewish, and be more Christian-like.
Considering the fact that Shylock is perceived as the devil, he is actually portrayed as deeply human with a heart and soul. It is revealed through Shylock’s response to Salerio’s and Solonio’s taunts about Jessica’s elopement that he is no different, physically, from a Christian. Shylock proves his point that he is physically no different from a Christian by exclaiming,
I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions; fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter...