The Merchant of Venice is a comedy with a heart of darkness. In order to help a beloved friend, Antonio takes a loan from Shylock, a grasping Jewish moneylender. The terms of the loan state that if Antonio defaults on the loan, he must make restitution with a pound of his own flesh. One of Shakespeare's most complex characters, Shylock is at once villainous and profoundly human. He embodies commonplace anti-Semitic stereotypes, yet his motivations - surrounded as he is by hostile Christians - are readily comprehensible and render him sympathetic. The Merchant of Venice continues to challenge, entertain and disturb theatergoers and readers alike.