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Essay on The Character of Shylock in The Merchant of Venice

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The Character of Shylock in The Merchant of Venice


Victim or villain. These two words are the total opposites of each
other. A victim is someone that 'we' in general should, or may, feel
sorry for and attempt to sympathise or empathise with. But a villain
is the one person that people love to hate. The best example of this I
feel is pantomime. The victims or heroes are clear-cut and the
audience willingly cheers them. But as soon as the villain walks on
stage he is hissed and booed, unfortunately it is not as simple as
this in 'The Merchant of Venice' and how the audience react to the
characters is all important in making the distinction between victim
or villain.

Although the title of the play: 'The Merchant of Venice', implies
Antonio is the central character, I think that Shylock is the most
important, often when he is off-stage, in the words and actions of
others. There is still a debate over whether Shylock is wholly
villainous, or whether his circumstances and life force him to a
certain extent in his actions. This difference in interpretations can
be highlighted in the way audiences would have reacted when the play
was written, and how this compares to a more modern insight into the
play. In particular, this reaction to Shylock is pivotal to the big
question, victim or villain.

In Elizabethan times, Shylock would have been portrayed as a villain
through-and-through. When he tells the audience how he has been
treated, spat upon, and how the Christians insult him, calling him,
"cut-throat dog" and"cur", there would be no sympathy for him; on the
contrary the audience may well have thought that this was a good and
co...


... middle of paper ...


...I believe Shylock was attempting to peacefully
co-exist with the Christians, and tried to make life easier by lending
money without usury. But, after the elopement, Shylock can be seen to
be definitely more villainous, it is very clear, not ambiguous. Up
until the trial scene he is a proper villain, the genuine article who
would have been hated by everyone, he had no support. But, I think
that the judgement by the Christians was wrong. They had been so sure
that they were for justice, but the truth is, when they forced him to
change his religion they were not being Christian, they had sunk to
his level. This can be confirmed in a sentence by saying, Shylock is a
villain, but to a certain extent this villainy can be understood
because of the actions of others towards him. He is a villain, because
he has been victimised.


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