This chapter presents some opening remarks about the character of Shylock in The Merchant of Venice. The hyperstructured play is preoccupied by wills, boxes, bonds, and rituals of choice and law, not to mention the larger generic structures of the comic fiction. Shylock is at once the exploiter and the victim of such structures. He slips past them even as he makes us feel both their weight and their arbitrariness. This comes through in the way he both feeds and shatters the balance of the comedy. It comes through in how he makes a legal bond such a radical mark of his identity, a vehicle for his rage, even as it drives any more normative notion of legal bonding into the wilderness. These are aspects of Shylock's singularity, his particularity, or power of idiosyncrasy. The Merchant of Venice is Shylock's play, he gives it its point, even as he is larger than the world which tries to contain him.
Keywords: Merchant of Venice, Shylock, comic fiction, legal bond