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Shylock: Villain or Victim? Essay

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‘The Merchant of Venice’ is a play set in Italy in the late 16th Century, written by William Shakespeare. One of the main characters in the play is a cunning Jewish moneylender named Shylock. Shylock is part of a race that was discriminated against, despised and hated for their religion.
In the beginning of the play Shylock makes an unsettling bond with a well-known, good and generous man named Antonio. Shylock has always had a grudge against Antonio because he is trusting; he lends money without interest, taking away Shylock’s business. He is also a Christian. We know that we can never trust Shylock to have any feeling of consideration towards Antonio, when he says,
‘If I can catch him once upon the hip, I will feed fat the ancient grudge I bear him.’
However, Antonio promises to pay Shylock the money borrowed, or else will allow Shylock to take a pound of his flesh should the loan not be repaid. Antonio disapproves morally of lending money for interest and it is a mark of his affection for his friend Bassanio that he now breaks his own rule. Bassanio has already spent his own fortune and would like to restore this by marrying the woman he claims to love. Shylock justifies Antonio’s decision by reciting the story of Jacob from the Old Testament to him; however in doing this he twists the words of the bible to coincide with his ideas. Antonio replies,
‘The devil can cite scripture for his purpose.’
Before Bassanio leaves for Belmont he extravagantly decides to throw a big feast. Shylock out of malice and hatred goes to the feast, not to enjoy the party but to eat the wonderful meal bought with Bassanio’s money; he is determined to do all he can to ruin him. Shylock’s servant, the comic Lancelot Gobbo, shows his dislike of...


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...e with this moving speech. Shylock is blind to everything other than the terms of his bond; his insistence in the strict route of justice makes no allowance for anything that even approaches compassion or mercy. This in the end proves to be his undoing. However it is hard to rejoice in Antonio’s victory. After the court scene, Shylock is broken; Portia not only released Antonio from his bond, but strips Shylock of both his religion and his livelihood.

Shylock is an unsettling character; his heartfelt speeches make it hard for me to label him as a natural villain, on the other hand Shylock’s cold attempt at revenge by murdering his persecutor, Antonio, prevents me from viewing him in a positive light. For moments, Shakespeare offers us glimpses of an unmistakably human Shylock but he often steers me against him as well, portraying him as a cruel, bitter figure.



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