In The Merchant of Venice, the penniless but attractive Bassanio seeks, and finally wins, the hand of the fabulously wealthy Portia. But even as the play provokes laughter, it also provokes something disturbing, as Bassanio's courtship is actually financed by the magnificent villain Shylock the moneylender -- the focus of anti-Semitic sentiment, and one of the most controversial yet strangely sympathetic of Shakespeare's characters, whose actions and whose treatment in the play are still debated to this day.
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