If Shylock Had A Defense

Honorable judge and esteemed members of the jury,

I, Shylock, stand before you to present my side of that infamous trial. Until now, all you have heard is the sanitized tale. They say that the victors write history. And thus, all these years, you have heard a version of this case through the eyes of the “noblemen”. Those rose-tinted glasses that oddly enough, paint the world in black and white and relegate me to the margins — the old shriveled Jewish moneylender who was after the flesh of a pure, innocent man. Complete nonsense, I say. Before you turn your high nose away in contempt, all I ask is for you is to listen to my story. I am a Jew, a moneylender, and a father. But I am also human.

Give me time to plead my case. Just as you were sympathetic towards Antonio, do lend an ear to me. I do not beg for your sympathy, nor do I deserve your contempt. But I do ask for an unbiased hearing of my case. Distinguished members of the jury, today I seek to clear my name of all the charges levied against me. I do not deny anything. Yes, I did ask for a pound of flesh if my loan was not repaid. But no one has sought the motivation behind this innovative method of forfeiture. Every hero needs a good villain. But what about that untold tale, that is buried so deep inside the barren earth upon which you and I stand, that no one remembers to recant it during the closing comments of the case? Innocent until proven guilty is the norm of the law. Why is it then that I am already a grave sinner in your eyes? I say Antonio is no purer than I. And today, I seek to prove my point.

Let me make things clear. I am a Jew by religion and a moneylender by profession. What else could I be if I were a Jew in Venice? I know my trade well, and I deal a fair hand. Of course, when you repay, I take extra in lieu of my services and provide my beneficiaries with quick money. Could you imagine how would the world function if it were not for us Jews? Could you imagine any trade happening without these quick and easy Ducats? Of course, your ships will return someday, clad with gold, but you cannot feed your family on mere hope in the meantime. And you would need ready cash to load up your ships in the first place.

Yet when you come to me, you resent me. And not only you, wise gents, Antonio too, who reveled in my misery. He, the benevolent saint, never charged a Ducat extra. He is the cause for the downfall of this trade. When I walk down the streets, he makes fun of me, calls me dirty names, and spits on my face as if I am a lowly mongrel of the streets. Why such resentment against a fellow human, I ask? Is it because of my faith or my trade that I am so widely hated? What wrong have I done by not accepting your saviour as mine too? Albeit I do admit, I did not resent Antonio such when he first started out. He was just another merchant, and I was just another banker. But he found obscure joy in loaning money without interest, undermining my very means of livelihood.

So, you can imagine my surprise when Antonio turned up on my door that day, asking for three thousand Ducats. Repeatedly, this man has taunted me. I have been called a cut-throat dog and a misbeliever at every opportunity possible. But I patiently suffered this ordeal, for suffering is our first principle. As for my faith, I am proud to be a Jew. I am proud to be who I am. Shylock, a Jewish moneylender in Venice, a man who lost his dear wife to an illness and sees her image in his sweet daughter Jessica. Proud of my faith and my trade. There are a few things in life that I hold dear, and among these are my wife’s ring and my faith. For years, my people have been persecuted because of our faith. Esteemed members of the jury, I ask you, would you not hold on dearly to that one thing for which your ancestors were mercilessly killed? Would you not be respectful of your religion if it were the only companion with you when you were confined to one narrow space in the whole city, just because you believed in a different God? And would your blood not boil if you were spat upon only because you were a Jew? I am a human, just like you.

Coming back to that day when Antonio came with a request for three thousand Ducats. It seemed odd, and quite frankly, I did not make much of my bond. No interest if the loan is repaid within three months, and a pound of Antonio’s flesh, otherwise. Keep in mind that Antonio is a wealthy trader, flush with money. So, it was unthinkable that he would default. What about the pound of flesh, you may ask? Surely it was useless. One cannot eat it, neither can one sell it. Looking back, I see that it was my anger towards Jessica that had propelled me towards this unusual demand. She had eloped with a Christian man, taking with her the one thing I hold dearer than life, my late wife’s ring- the only thing I had which reminded me of her. Members of the jury, I admit, this was a case of misplaced anger, and Antonio was the wrong man at the wrong time. However, that fateful day, I did not have this wisdom of foresight and we sealed the bond or rather, Antonio sealed his fate.

Months passed, as any good Jew would tell you, we never forget our debts. The unique nature of our bond had made it the talk of the town. When people would ask me what I wished to do with a pound of Antonio’s flesh, I would snap. He abhors me because I am a Jew, so I would tell people. I ask you, revered members of the jury. If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? Then when you wrong us, should we not seek revenge? I unabashedly admit that this old moneylender wanted cold revenge on Antonio. I saw the perfect moment and made a fair deal. And Antonio agreed to the conditions set by me. Why should I not get my pound of flesh? Revenge is all I ask for.

Inclusiveness, and harmony, you say, don’t you? But kindness is not a one-way street. A Jew will not suffer his fate in silence forever, for it is the Christian standard of seeking revenge. One day, when the water boils over, it can no longer be contained. All I wanted was my share of sunshine, my share of the land. What use is of a pound of flesh to a frail man of sixty? And what pleasure it is to a man half his age, constantly taunting the old Jew for his ways? For as much as Antonio is responsible for the well-being of Venice, so is Shylock. Antonio becomes the town’s beloved because he is a rich Christian merchant with hundreds of ships and thousands of Ducats to throw away towards the people of Venice. I resent that, but I do not reduce him to lowly names in the marketplace. On the other hand, I, Shylock, become the most despicable man in all of Venice just because I charge a premium rate of interest. But I am as important as Antonio, if not more. For without me, you would not have the money to throw those extravagant parties and engage in elaborate trades. Without the oiling of money, the gears of life would come to a screeching halt. Yet everyone hates the moneylender.

Why, esteemed jury, am I the subject of such revulsion? Is it because I am a Jew, a moneylender, or just an old man going about his business? Why do Antonio and his friends have to make fun of me every time I pass by? And why do they still come to this senile Jew for money when the need arises? As the old saying goes, when the water comes in, the fish devour the ants. When it recedes, the ants eat the fish. It was just my day. My bond, a merry bond at that. Revenge, they say, is a dish best served cold. I say, one pound at a time.



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