- The vengeful Jewish usurer in Shakespeare's The Merchantof Venice (1596). Shakespeare is thought to have created thepart in response to the anti-Semitic feelings aroused by the executionin 1594 of Dr Roderigo Lopez, a Jewish physician convicted of tryingto poison Queen Elizabeth. Shakespeare's consummate skill as a dramatist,however, prevented him from creating a one-dimensional villain. Hisportrait of Shylock evokes both revulsion for the relentless persecutorof Antonio, coldly insisting on his 'pound of flesh', and compassionfor a wounded and humiliated outsider. Shakespeare gives him a goodand memorable case:
Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions,senses, affections, passions?...If you prick us, do we not bleed? Ifyou tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? Andif you wrong us, shall we not revenge?
This aspect of the role was first emphasized by Charles Macklin
'sperformance in 1741, when he played Shylock as a tragic and dignifiedfigure. A similar interpretation persisted in many 19th-century productions;William Hazlitt noted in 1818 that Shylock "becomes a half-favouritewith the philosophical part of the audience...Shylock is a goodhater
; a man no less sinned against than sinning." Thisis even more true today, when an anti-Semitic caricature would betotally unacceptable to most audiences.