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Sympathizing With Shylock At The End Of Act 4 in William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice

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Sympathizing With Shylock At The End Of Act 4 in William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice

Throughout The Merchant of Venice the extent to which the reader
sympathises with Shylock is constantly adjusted, formed by the most
recent facts and circumstances learned of. After only a few words the
impression given of Shylock is one of a sly, cunning, suspicious man;
he openly admits (to the reader/viewer) that he hates Antonio 'for he
is a Christian.' We then learn of possible justification for this view
and yet Shylock still agrees to lend him the all of the requested
money. After this, Shylock loses a servant (to a Christian) then loses
much of his money with his only daughter (again to a Christian), but
again there is evidence of possible justification. He learns of the
unlikelihood of his owed money being repaid by Antonio and people
continue to mock Shylock for his losses, so he seeks his revenge,
condemning Antonio to death. He claims religious justification and
that he is simply following the 'example' set to him by Christians.

Before anything else, Shylock is a Jew in a predominantly Christian
city. Members of the two faiths dislike each other (largely due to
historical disagreement), and at this time in history it is hardly
surprising that the Christians take advantage of their numerical
supremacy. In the street they openly mistreat Shylock by spitting and
swearing at him because there is nothing to stop them. It is quite
possible that he would have been spat upon and sworn at whatever his
status and personality, and would certainly have been disliked by the
vast majority of Christians. Today this is obviously considered very
...


... middle of paper ...


...ems like nothing will stop him from
killing Antonio. He claims that if it were a Christian seeking revenge
on a Jew he would do exactly the same, so he is only following a
Christian's example. This may be true, but there still seems no
justification in killing a man for not paying back a debt.

Shylock has gone too far in trying to avenge his servant, his
daughter, his money and his dignity, so by the end of Act 4 more
incomprehension than sympathy is felt towards Shylock. However,
Shakespeare has created a character for whom the reader/viewer's
feelings swing from one extreme to the other throughout the play, but
whose actions nearly always have some justification, however
questionable it may be. You cannot help but wonder if things might
have been different for Shylock and Antonio in a predominantly Jewish
city.


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