Note to The Merchant of Venice, 1.3.41 "fawning publican"
fawning publican: This is a puzzling phrase. Editors often treat it as an allusion to a parable of Jesus that appears in Luke 18:10-14. Here is the parable as it appears in the King James Version:
I don't see how this fits with the situation in Shakespeare's play. Publicans were despised tax-gatherers, but in the parable the publican is a man of righteous humbleness, so to compare Antonio to that publican would be to praise Antonio, and that is clearly not Shylock's intent.
10 Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican.
11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even this publican.
12 I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I possess.
13 And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.
14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalted himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.
Also, the publican in the parable does not fawn. On the other hand, Antonio does fawn. In the first scene of the play we saw Antonio fawn over Bassanio, and now that Antonio and Bassanio are together again, we may be seeing him doing it again. Thus it may appear that Shylock is comparing Bassanio not to a tax-gatherer in ancient Judaea, but to the sort of "publican" who keeps an ale-house and fawns over his customers. However, the Oxford English Dictionary gives 1728 as the earliest date for the appearance in print of the word "publican" to mean "a person who owns or mangages a public house or tavern." It seems highly unlikely that the word could have had that meaning in popular use for over a hundred and twenty years without it being noted in print.
In short, I do not know the solution to this puzzle.