merchant of venice-antiono
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Although Shylock is accused of representing much of what the Christians hate, it is through his conflict with Antonio in particular that Shakespeare pokes holes in the accusations of the Christian men. The most common error is to assume that the merchant referred to in the title is in fact Shylock himself. This is not the case, since Shylock is only a moneylender. Indeed, the merchant indicated is Antonio. This confusion surrounding Antonio and Shylock is purposeful, for it shows the audience how the Christians are in many ways as awful as the Jews they mock. It also sets the stage for misinterpretation. For example, Shylock states, "Antonio is a good man" (1.3.11), referring to the fact that Antonio is "good" for the money which Bassanio wishes to borrow. Bassanio takes this statement at face value, and agrees that Antonio is a nice man.
The seriousness of the Christian misunderstanding can be seen when Shylock makes the bond with Antonio:
"This kindness will I show.
Go with me to a notary, seal me there
Your single bond, and, in a merry sport,
If you repay me not on such a day,
In such place, such sum or sums as are
Expressed in the condition, let the forfeit
Be nominated for an equal pound
Of your fair flesh to be cut off and taken
In what part of your body pleaseth me.
Now Antonio repeats the same mistake made by Bassanio, thinking that Shylock is being "kind" when he agrees to loan the money without interest. Antonio states "The Hebrew will turn Christian; he grows kind" (1.3.174). Antonio is so convinced that he will be able to repay his debts that Shylock's request for a pound of his flesh as collateral strikes him as a joke, and therefore is not taken at all seriously.
Shylock's character starts to emerge very strongly in Act II. We see him now not only as a moneylender demanding interest, but also as a villain. He shows a marked aversion to fun, demanding that Jessica lock the door and close the windows when he finds out there will be a masque that night. However, contrary to his statement in the first act, Shylock leaves his house to enjoy a dinner with Bassanio. Much of this act therefore develops the negative aspects of Shylock character.
However, the Christian faults are also exposed within this act. The faithlessness of Jessica has been an issue of discussion for many centuries, with the debate raging over whether she is justified in leaving her father. The crucial difficulty is that she does not merely run away, but she insists on stealing large amounts of her father's jewels and gold. Thus when Graziano remarks, "Now, by my hood, a gentile, and no Jew" (2.6.51), we can only see it as ironic. Ironic because she is stealing her father's money, so he is essentially implying Christians are thieves.
Jessica's actions also leave unanswered the question of why she is locked up in her father's home. The answer to this comes from an understanding of the relationship between money and breeding. Whereas in the beginning Antonio is impotent in the sense that his money does not breed, Shylock is not. Shylock further has the advantage of having a daughter. Since the Jewish lineage is passed down via the maternal line, Jessica represents a way for Shylock's family line to continue. Thus, hoarding Jessica and his gold is Shylock's way of guaranteeing his successful breeding. In fact, Solanio makes this connection between daughter and money abundantly clear when he tells us that Shylock ran through the street of Venice crying:
"My daughter! O, my ducats! O, my daughter!
Fled with a Christian! O, my Christian ducats!
Justice! The law! My ducats and my daughter!
A sealed bag, two sealed bags of ducats,"
Thus for Shylock the simultaneous loss of his daughter and his money is in a sense the loss of his fertility.
Not only does her conversion to Christianity destroy Shylock's family line, it also makes him impotent in a metaphorical sense. Jessica takes two stones with her, which represent the "testicles" of Shylock, since stone was often used to mean testicle. Thus after her theft, Shylock joins Antonio in impotence, having lost his ability to breed. Indeed, the escape of Jessica marks the turning point of Shylock's fortunes, which will lead to his eventual destruction.