Shylock is first introduced in Act 1, Scene 3 where Bassanio approaches him for a loan to Antonio. When Antonio arrives we learn of Shylock’s hatred for him – “I hate him for he is a Christian”. Later on in the scene we learn that Shylock’s bitterness towards Antonio and the Christian race is understandable. We pity him, especially when he says to Antonio
“You spat on me Wednesday last”, “You called me a dog”.
Antonio doesn’t deny this and even says “I am as like to call thee so again,” and to “spit on thee again” despite the fact he wants Shylock to lend him money. In Shakespeare’s time, people were unlikely to have met Jews who had not converted to Christianity – they had been banned from England for three hundred years. Antonio’s anti-Semitism lets us pity Shylock who has been discriminated against due to his race. Here Shylock is not the villain of the play but the victim.
However, in Act 1 Scene 3 we do feel that Shylock’s bitter hatred and resentment towards Christians, although not entirely his fault, potentially could have some sinister reprocussions. He proposes a ‘joke’ forfeit of a pound of flesh we feel as if this could be a trick in order to take his revenge on Antonio and Christians as a race.
In Act 2, Scene 2 Launcelot is having a battle with his conscience about whether to leave Shylock’s service. He calls Shylock “the very devil incarnation” and again we feel sorry for Shylock and learn that almost every character in the play considers him a villain but we, as readers, pity him and feel he is being victimised. He runs away and in fact decides to seek Bassanio as his master. This we know would have pained Shylock even further – not only was he being betrayed but is going to serve Bassanio – a Christian of whom he has bitter hatred for.
In Act 2, Scene 5 we learn a bit on how Shylock treats his daughter Jessica. He tells her to “lock up my doors” and tells her not to ‘thrust her head into the public street”. Here instead of sympathising...