the merchant of venice by shakespear
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I would have to go with Shylock on this. The character of Shylock is arguably one of the most complex in Shakespeare's works. He is multi-layered and open to interpretation. I have seen about five versions of this play. In these renditions he was played as evil, comic or almost heroic. Then throw in the context of religion and Anti-Semitism and you get a lifetime of pondering this character. Shylock is very much a paradox. When he finds out his daughter Jessica has eloped, Shylock seems more worried about his gold, "'My daughter! O my ducats! O my daughter! ...Fled with a Christian! O my Christian ducats!"
Then when Shylock finds out that Jessica has traded a gift from his dead wife he says,
"Out upon her! Thou torturest me, Tubal: it was my
turquoise; I had it of Leah when I was a bachelor:
I would not have given it for a wilderness of monkeys"
Now money does not seem as important to him. My point is that Shylock operates on many levels. They are not strictly stereotypical "Jewish" complexities rather than human traits that we all have if we care to look.
Merchant of Venice
I like Portia. She is a woman ahead of her time. She wants to marry for love, not just for social status and wealth and property. She chooses a poor man when she could have any prince she wants.
Portia is also true. She could say to heck with the caskets and marry whomever she chooses, but she abides by her father's wishes. She trusts Bassanio so much that she risks a lot of money for his friend whom she has never met.
Portia is very clever. She fools all the men into believing she is a doctor of law. That took guts. She plays with her husband with the whole ring plot too.
Portia is not perfect--she could show more mercy to Shylock, and maybe the ring plot goes too far. Still, she is among the most admirable characters in all of literature.