chapter  5
18 Pages

“My Bloody Creditor”: The Merchant of Venice and the Lexicon of Credit

In Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, Antonio and Shylock ostensibly use credit differently. Portia’s question, “Which is the Merchant, and which the Jew?” rephrased “Which is the creditor, and which the usurer?” begs the question: we are to assume that creditors are different from usurers, not only different in practice but different in type.1 More stereotype than type, the usurer/Jew figure, however, has no real equivalent “creditor” character in early modern drama.2 How are “bad” creditors-or debtors, for that matter-distinguished from “good” ones? Antonio, while displaying Christian generosity, is nonetheless prodigal in his ventures. Bassanio is only saved from being an immoral debtor-from causing the death of his creditor-by Portia’s legal maneuverings. And Portia, while not typically dubbed a creditor, shifts the balance of obligation in her favor. In controlling, to her advantage, the credit of all economic agents by the play’s end, Portia is not assumed to be greedy or self-interested, but instead generous and merciful.