If you and I grew up around the same time, there are tonnes of words that race through our minds when we hear the name ‘Shylock’. Yes, Shylock, from the Merchant of Venice! No, we weren’t born when it was first performed in the 16th century, but, I’m quite sure every generation has read and re-read this great epic! We associate Shylock with deception and treachery. More words spring to the mind and they are dupery, ploys, craftiness; predominantly all the synonyms for Fraudulence!
Shylock- The Epitome of Immorality
Who was he? He was a Moneylender in Venice. Like almost all functional villains, Shylock harbors a hatred for Antonio (a leading merchant of Venice). He decides to lend Bassanio (a friend of Antonio) three thousand ducats for three months (ouch!) on a bond signed by Antonio. Shylock was well known for his exaggerated rates of interests yet he demands nothing of that sort from Bassanio. Instead his demand was as follows:
If the day for payment falls due and the money is not returned, he may cut off one pound of flesh from Antonio’s body.
Poor Antonio (not literally) agrees because all of his ships are due back in Venice a full month before the bond falls due.
So, Shylock could be a representation of a larger community of ‘immorals’- his main crime was definitely (knowingly) offering a loan to a man of a very large quantity; much more than he can afford to repay.
Modern Moneylending Scene
Wait, let’s get this straight! Why do we charge interest? It’s simple; not all that twisted as the world seems to suggest. Usurers charge interest since the amount of money they are loaning to you could have alternative uses- which may benefit him or may profit him. But as he’s lending it to you, he has to postpone its use for other causes and thus, by charging an interest, he is making the best use of his money (instead of investing it someplace else). As a modern moneylender myself, I simply put forth the generic mentality towards moneylending as a profession. They have even been condemned to hell by many philosophers and religious leaders!!
You might wonder why then the government of our country (and various other countries) heavily encourages issuing loans to persons with low incomes. This is often noticed while issuing mortgage loans, where the government pleads for the lowest interest rates possible. When the lowest interest rates are not given out, money lending persons, organizations or banks are seen in a negative light as those who ‘discriminate’. You may have heard about how the assets of the moneylenders have been seized to compensate for their defaulting customers (infuriating!)
When Moneylending Goes Wrong
You may find an optimist like me arguing that loans can open up a whole new world for a person- can empower him to fulfill his dreams which he was almost forced to give up due to lack of funds.
But what happens when it doesn’t quite work out as optimistically as I’d love to imagine. There’s tonnes of suffering- emotional and yes, a back-breaking effort begins to re-pay the money, with full interest. You have to be in such a situation to purely feel its plight. The range of thoughts, emotions, experiences you go through; all while feeling like you missed the mark, failed yourself and disappointed your loved ones is more than painful.
It is not uncommon to find a man pressed for money to compromise his morals and entertain thoughts of theft, of sizes big and small. Yes, when in a situation like that, humans can be pushed to incomprehensible extremes.
But let’s not get too ungrateful, shall we?
Moneylending- More Boon Than Bane
What should not be denied and devalued is the contribution of moneylenders to the development of our society at large. It is usury which sustains “life-serving commerce and industry”, whose establishment would be somewhat impossible otherwise. The most recent example being provisions of enormous finances to the Information Technology sector and the BioTechnology sector.
Money-lenders have been paving the way for modernity and many marvels of mankind- why are they still loathed, mistrusted and disrespected till today?