The original comedy/romance A plot was less emphasised than the whole caffuffle with Portia, the rings and the whole romance.
They went out of their way to make Shylock more sympathetic - showing him spat upon by Antonio in the beginning (and spat on in most of his other scenes by the supporting cast) and generally reviled by the populace of Venice. Personally I didn't see the need to do this - it's not in the play written by Shakespeare (though there are references to this sort of thing, and yes it did happen) and the play is already very morally ambigious at the outset anyway. As a boy reading the play in school I felt Shylock was royally shafted in the conclusion of the play.
He's already a sympathetic character to me because:-
- His daughter runs off with one of Antonio's cronies, taking a lot of his cash and even pawning the family heirlooms. This suggests to me his initial proposal of taking Antonio's pound of flesh was more a whimsy - perhaps he was building bridges with an interest free loan, but after this violation of his trust (and daughter) he decides an Antonio steak would make a fine cold dish of vengeance.
- The crowd at the court pretty much assumes Shylock will dismiss the debt.
- The legal grounds for the debt being made illegal is that the contract does not mention any loss of blood. Umm... how else was he supposed to get it? Scraping off Antonio's feet for the next 10 years? Talk about setting a bad legal precedent - I expect a few people present at the court ran off and got some of these "no pay, no problem" pound of flesh loans. That's the kind of judicial logic I'd expect in the USA these days.
- Once it is made clear Shylock cannot have his lb of flesh he is not allowed to choose the 6,000 ducats. Errr... what? Where was it mentioned this was the limited time offer.
- And of course there's his forced conversion to Christianity, which plain sucks even if it was "good" in Shakespeare's day.
- Antonio, the debtor, is rewarded for his failed high risk trading by taking half of his creditor's estate. Is that any way to reward poor financial acumen? This point is most disturbing because of the arbiter's credentials...
- Anyone catch Bassanio and Antonio bribing the lawyers after the trial? They offered them the 6,000 ducats as a token of their gratitude. Fixed trial anyone?
- These lawyers turned out to be women (which I'm guessing meant you couldn't be a judge in those days) so surely their rulings should be overturned?
- Worse than that Bassanio is married to the judge, and it was Shylock's loan that allowed him the means to marry her. Can anyone smell a rat or is it just me?
Yours in a thoughtful mood, nit-picking Shakespare.