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In order to ensure that we understand Shylock as a threat to the happiness of Venice’s citizens and lovers, Shakespeare uses a number of dramaticdevices to amplify Shylock’s villainy. In doing so, however, he creates a character so compelling that many feel Shylock comes to dominate the play,thereby making him “too large.” Certainly, Shylock is a masterful creation. At his cruelest, he is terrifying, even more so because all of his schemes existwithin the framework of the law. Seen in this light, Shylock becomes a kind of bogeyman, turning Venetian society’s own institutions on themselves. Onthe other hand, Shylock is also pitiable, even sympathetic, at times. He has been harshly handled by Venetian society and has seen his daughter elopewith one of the same men who despise him. His passionate monologue in Act III, scene i reveals that he feels the same emotions as his opponents, and wecannot help but see him as a man. In fact, Shylock’s character is so well-rounded and intricate that many see him as the only interesting figure in aplay that is not, in theory, supposed to center about him. Shylock’s scenes are gripping and fascinating, and many critics believe the play deflatesevery time he makes an exit.

There is no clear protagonist. Antonio is the merchant of the play’s title, but he plays a relatively passive role. Themajor struggles of the play are Bassanio’s quest to marry Portia and his attempt to free Antonio from Shylock, so Bassanio is the likeliest candidate.
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