Titan was Tripped1/1994.
If The Merchant of Venice was intended to be a comedy, then the characters' actions are very distressing. Shylock's persecution was intended to be humorous, however it is never amusing to have someone be taunted and molested out of hatred. A superior piece of literature should have an equal balance of both distress and satisfaction, but this play presents a harsh reminder of how some people are hypocritical bigots with little or no integrity.
The Christians' actions continually contradict their espoused values of good will, generosity, and trust. Shylock, a nonviolent person, is abused physically and psychologically throughout the play. Antonio spits on and kicks Shylock just because he is a Jew. Portia preaches for mercy in the courtroom scene and then proceeds to have none towards Shylock; she persuades the court to take away a large portion of his assets. The Christians do not voice their hatred for Shylock outright, but they physically abuse him with no more provocation than he is a Jew.
This hatred is not one sided, however. Shylock voices his hatred of the Christians to the audience, as if to say, "I must tell you, since my actions do not show it." This is his own little joke. When Shylock acts nicely towards the Christians, he does it knowingly. When the Christians contradict their own beliefs by acting in hateful and deceitful ways, they do not realize it.
Shylock's actions are more consistent with his underlying beliefs than any other character's. He is not hypocritical. Shylock does not spit in Antonio's face. Shylock does not kick Antonio.
Within their friendships the Christians present more incongruity. Gratiano and Bassanio are manipulated by their new wives. This shows that they do not know their spouses well enough and do not have relationships based on trust and communication. It is distressing that Bassanio and Gratiano do not spend more time carefully considering their decisions. They should not have given up the rings they promised their wives they would keep. This demonstrates that their words are not worth much.
Bassanio cannot accept that Antonio is going to die for his debt, so he and Portia bend the path of justice to suit themselves. If it would have been a Jew on trial for a pound of flesh, he would have lost it. No society can have equality without an objective system of judgment, one in which the punishment is the same for all people.
After Antonio faced death in the courtroom, he offered himself again to be bound for Bassanio. He did not learn from his first experience. This gesture demonstrates a good quality of humanity; their friendship was still very strong even after Bassanio was married. On the other hand, Bassanio would not be happy if Antonio died for his happiness, so the offering would not work as intended if fulfilled.
There is a little pleasant relief from the irrational behavior. It is humorous that Shylock degrades Antonio by his shrewd contractual agreement that exposes Antonio's stupidity. No one notices this except Shylock himself.
Shylock has something which Antonio desires. Shylock names the price; Antonio accepts. Antonio receives his money, but Shylock is cheated out of his rightful payment.
Shylock charges interest on his loans; Antonio does not because he is a good Christian. This is intended to make Shylock seem even more evil. No one is forced to go to Shylock for a loan. If someone wanted use of his money, Shylock has the right to ask for interest. The person then has the right to accept or refuse the loan. It could be said Shylock was vindictive because he wanted Antonio's life, but two people have to agree on a contract. Perhaps it says more about Antonio who agreed by signing the document.
Shylock has a large portion of his assets confiscated during the courtroom scene. When Jessica runs off with Lorenzo, she also takes his money. This was intended to be funny by hurting a successful Jewish businessman.
Launcelot Gobbo injects a small amount of humor into the play, in the form of word games and his jester-like behavior. A few word games by Gobbo and others cannot make up for the bleak mood created by the actions of the characters.
In this play, the Christians do not realize that every individual's beliefs are as important to that individual as the Christian's beliefs are to themselves. Furthermore, they think that opinions different from theirs are wrong. They believe that by forcing their ideals on another they are helping him. How would they feel if they were forced to give their souls to Cthulu? They would cry as Shylock did when he was forced to convert to Christianity.
If a healthy balance of disquietude and pleasure is required for a piece of literature to be superior, then The Merchant of Venice is not as superior as it could have been. It is a sobering demonstration of human weakness.