"Look Here, upon This Picture, and on This"
The cry of Hamlet to his mother in the closet-scene, "Look here, upon this picture, and on this," rises easily to the lips of one busied with the literature of comment on The Merchant of Venice. For interpreters of the play differ greatly in their attitude toward Shylock - and their attitude toward Shylock influences greatly, as a matter of course, their attitude toward the other characters of the play. Shylock is, indeed, according to the exposition of many learned judges, in reality the hero of the play - as he is, for example, to the editor of the great English Dictionary of National Biography, who has of late written, "For Shylock (not the merchant Antonio) is the hero of the play, and the main interest culminates in the Jew's trial and discomfiture." 
While, on the contrary, Gervinus, in his Shakespeare Commentaries, has entered a vigorous protest against the 'lowness' and 'madness' that have gone so far as "to make on the stage a martyr and hero out of this outcast of humanity." So also to the most honored of Shakespearean scholars, of whose worth the wide world is not ignorant, Shylock is (up to a certain point) "simply a cruel and vindictive creditor." And this incomparable Shakespeare scholar is clearly convinced that "this is not a 'tendenz-drama,' wherein is infused a subtle plea of toleration for the Jews." 
So opposite, then, are the points of view from which the characters of the play are at times presented, both in literary criticism and upon the stage, that the reader - before making for himself a final choice, before declaring precipitately,
"Deliver me the key:
Here do I choose, and thrive I as I may!" - might well, quite in accord with the spirit of Portia's plea to Bassanio, lest he do choose wrong, suffer himself to be detained 'some month or two' in a survey of the field of criticism concerning this play, with an open mind looking meanwhile here upon this picture and on this, and looking ever, as a matter of course, upon the text as well from which these pictures are, more or less justifiably, drawn.
First Interpretation - Shylock a Wolfish, Bloody, Inexorable Dog
Of the various interpretations of the character of Shylock one makes him throughout a mere bloodthirsty villain; a stony adversary, an inhuman wretch; a misbeliever, cut-throat dog; a dog Jew; the most impenetrable cur that ever kept with men. In the downfall of this 'damn'd, inexorable dog,' whose desires are wolfish, bloody, starved, and ravenous, even though the downfall be brought about by means of a palpable legal quibble, they wholly rejoice, agreeing with Bassanio that to do this great right it is quite justifiable to do a little wrong,  if one may thereby curb this cruel devil of his will. And untroubled by any recognition of some right in wrong, of humanity in inhumanity, on the part of Shylock, they give their sympathies unreservedly to his antagonists in the play; they are content with the good Antonio's 'expectoratory method' of manifesting his distaste for this particular member of the Hebrew race; they take unalloyed delight in Jessica's marriage out of her race and religion, offering excuses for "the dry eyes - nay, laughing lips - with which she departs"; they even pass lightly over her robbery of her father's jewels and the exchange of her dead mother's betrothal ring for a monkey, and, protesting that she is daughter neither to his manners nor his blood, with Gratiano they exclaim admiringly, "by my hood, a Gentile and no Jew."
The readers who thus interpret the play pay little heed to the touches by which, to others, Shakespeare has humanized the character of Shylock and made his desire for revenge, if not admirable, yet, fierce as it is, comprehensible at least. And, far from being offended by what some of the less rigorous souls of a debile age have dispraised as the contemptuously brutal treatment accorded to Shylock and his…