I first read The Merchant of Venice when I was eight or nine, and I was appalled by it. (For those of you unfamiliar with this Shakespeare play, it’s about a Jew (Shylock) who lends a Christian (Antonio) 3,000 ducats on the condition that if he doesn’t repay it by the specified date, Shylock can take a pound of Antonio’s flesh. Antonio fails to pay up, and Shylock is about to take his pound of flesh from around Antonio’s heart, when a judge (who is really Antonio’s friend’s wife Portia in disguise, but that’s not relevant here) tells Shylock he can take a pound of flesh but not a single drop of blood. Then Portia convicts Shylock of conspiring against a citizen, blah, blah, blah, and confiscates all his money but then says she’ll give half of it back if Shylock converts to Christianity, which he does.)
In any case, it wasn’t the rabid anti-Semitism that disturbed me; for some reason, I took no particular exception to this. No, what bothered me was the inconsistent portrayal of character. Shylock is incredibly clever and cunning throughout three and a half acts of this play and then turns into a bumbling idiot.
Because any fool with two brain cells to rub together would see that the way to get a pound of flesh without spilling any blood would be to scrape it off. While this wouldn’t kill Antonio, which is of course the consummation most devoutly to be wished, it would be remarkably painful and, with any luck, leave scars.
So yesterday I told my brother and his girlfriend L. about this, and as soon as I had finished L. said, “Well, he could scrape it off or he could burn the flesh and then cut it out, and there wouldn’t be any blood. That would be much more painful and much more likely to kill him.”
Only loyalty to my brother is keeping me from turning straight in the face of such an awesome mind.