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Essay about The Merchant of Venice: Is Shylock a Villain or a Victim?

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In this essay I will try to discover is Shylock a villain or a victim, in the William Shakespeare play “The Merchant of Venice”

It is difficult to say if Shylock is a complete villain or a victim, as his character is complex and ambiguous. However, it is difficult to view Shylock as anything other than a devious, bloodthirsty and heartless villain in the majority of the play. There are a few points in the story where he can be viewed as victimised, as most Jews were at that time, but Shakespeare has purposely portrayed Shylock as a stereotypical Jew, greedy, and obsessed with money. Shylock has been written to be very inflated and exaggerated. Even when Shylock makes his first appearance in the play, his first words are “Three thousand ducats,” Act 1, Scene 3.

Shylock lends Antonio a sum of money, that Antonio intends to pay back when his merchant ships arrive in Venice, one month before the debt would be forfeited. When Bassanio arranges the sum of money, Shylock befriends him, only to stand aside and utter to him self, "I hate him for he is a Christian... If I catch him once upon the hip, I will feed fat the ancient grudge I bear him," Act 1, Scene 3. Shortly after saying, "But ships are but boards, sailors but men... the perils of waters, winds, and rocks...Three thousand ducats; I think I may take his bond." Shylock is setting his trap here. Shylocks terms of the agreement are a pound of Antonios flesh from closets his heart, if it be forfeited.

Shylock also seems to show little or no love towards his daughter, Jessica. Shylock was hurt by his daughter running away with a large amount of his wealth, and for eloping with a Christian lover (Lorenzo); this is a point where Shylock can be viewed as a victim in the story...


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...t he was asked and begged repeatedly to accept three-fold the debt to excuse Antonio, but does not show any remorse, nor does he look like a victim of anybody. He is essentially paying six thousand ducats to have Antonio executed.

At the end of The Merchant of Venice, Shylock has been both a victim and a villain. He is a victim of his religion, and a victim of his greed and overwhelming need for revenge. Shylock is definitely the most villainous character in the play, and only a few elements can show him as a victim overall, even then, his victimisation only seems to be a consequence of his own actions. His daughter running away, because of her treatment, and apparent lack of love. The taking of his assets, because he would show no mercy towards Antonio. The final conclusion must be that Shylock is unreasonable, spiteful, heinous, greedy - and a villain.





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