Shylock in William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice


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Shylock in William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice

William Shakespeare wrote the merchant of Venice in the Elizabethan
period. The play is a tragic-comedy. It is set in a place called
Venice in the late 15th century. Venice is situated in the north east
of Italy and is known as the 'Queen of Adriatic' for its strong naval
power.

The play is about Shylock a Jewish moneylender, who is trying to make
a living in a community and a Country that despises him and alienates
him!

At the time when the Merchant of Venice was written England was a
Christian country, all children would be baptised soon after they were
born and were taught the basics at a very early age. Also at this time
Christians hated Jews because of the profession of lending money and
charging interests. Jews were isolated in England for being sinful to
a great extent because Christians by religion were unable to lend
money. Jews had become a money lending society because they were often
forbidden to own land or work in businesses. So the only real job left
to them were they could make a lot of money, was to lend money and
charge interests.

There was a great hatred between Christians and Jews in Venice; the
Christians made the Jews live around the outskirts of Venice while
they lived in the centre. The Christians pictured the Jews as inferior
because of their religion. Shakespeare made shylock as a very
interesting and an entertaining character, because he was able to
capture sympathy and understanding from the audience towards Shylock.
If Shakespeare had written Shylocks character showing that he was
backing up Jews he could have lost his head for that!

Shakespeare has made Shylock a very avaricious character this aspect
of him can be seen in the very first line he says 'Three Thousand
Ducats. Well'. This big part of Shylocks character can be seen
throughout the play. To its extreme when Jessica, his daughter runs
away taking his money and jewels with her, he says ' I would my

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daughter were dead at my foot, and the jewels in her ear'. This shows
that he cares more about his money and jewels than his own daughter
being found alive, who is also his only family member!

In Shylocks first scene it becomes clear that he spends a long time
debating with Bassanio whether or not to lend him the money. The main
reason for his delayed response is properly because he likes to have
control over the situation, which is not usually the case. It seems
that he loves the fact that people need him, especially a Christian
needing a Jew. Shylock cruelly takes full advantage of the situation
and keeps Antonio and Bassanio waiting nervously for his decision.
After all the waiting Shylock even pretends to forget the amount of
time Antonio had said to repay him 'I had forgot, Three months; you
told me so'. This shows he is very devious. Shakespeare also creates
Shylock as a two-faced character, he tells Bassanio how much he hates
Antonio ' I hate him for he is a Christian'', but to Antonio's face he
acts pleasant ' Rest you fair signor'. Finally when Shylock agrees he
says he will only lend Bassanio the money if when the three months is
up and the money is not repaid in full (with no interest) he shall
have a pound of Antonio's flesh (enough to kill him) ' let the forfeit
be nominated for an equal pound of your fair flesh, to be cut of and
taken'. This would be Shylock's way of taking revenge on Antonio.
Shylock says to Antonio 'You call me misbeliever, cut throat dog, and
spit on my Jewish gabardine' this seems like a rather extravagant
length to got to. This is a hint that shows that Shylock is being
victimised, but I don't blame Antonio for saying this to him because
up to now Shylock has been an evil, greedy, merciless old miser!

So, after the bond has been made with Antonio, Shylock is left alone
with no family, as Jessica his daughter elopes with Lorenzo, a friend
of Bassanio's. Shylock earns pity from the audience when he tells
Bassanio that 'My daughter is my flesh and blood', meaning that with
her gone it is as if a part of him has been taken too. He suddenly
turns into a villain when he shouts showing his emotions ' my
daughter! O my ducats! O my daughter! Fled with a Christian! Only
Christian ducats!' This again shows his hatred for Christians and that
his money has more value than his own daughter's life.

Shylock famous plea in act three, scene five shows him as a victim,
'and what's his reasons? I am a Jew, hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a
Jew hands, organs, dimensions, affections, passions? Fed with the same
food, with the same hurt with the same weapons?' Shylock tries to say
that everyone is the same as one another, but just have different
religions.

Antonio becomes bankrupt; all his wealth, which was invested in his
ships, has been lost because the ships have sunk out at sea. When
shylock hears the news he demands his rightful pound of flesh under
the Venetian law. In act four, scene one; shylock is again presented
as a villain. He walks in the court and places the scales of justice,
on the table and takes of his gabardine. This was the only chance for
shylock to have some justice, not just for the bond but also for how
he has been treated all his life. The court is very one sided as soon
as the judge says' Go one and call the Jew to the court' this shows
the judge is biased because he calls Shylock be the name of his
religion. The judge is blatantly influencing the court, with his own
prejudice views. Shylock is in an unfair trial, he is a victim in the
court because if his beliefs. He is being judged at a Christian court,
not a court of law!

Shylock wants his form of justice in his bond he made with Antonio.
During the trial Shylock loses sympathy from the audience by his words
and actions. He takes out a blade and starts sharpening it on his
shoes showing no mercy at all! He is ready to cut into Antonio's flesh
when Portia (dressed as dressed as Balthazar the judge) stops him and
says ' this bond doth give thee here no jot of blood. The word
expressed are a 'pound of flesh'.'

Portia reveals that if Shylock cuts Antonio and blood is seen shylock
is breaking the law! The bond Shylock had created has ruined his plan
for revenge.

The tables are now turned, with Venetian law saying that a penalty
must be paid by a murderer attempting to kill a Venetian. Still
Shylock is classed as an alien in his own home. Shylock's possessions
are confiscated because of the attempted murder of Antonio. Antonio
humiliates Shylock by making two conditions for his life firstly he
must become a Christian, and, secondly he must leave all his
possessions to Lorenzo his enemy and Antonio, after he dies.

Shylock is dishonoured and disgraced in the court scene, his only
friend Tubal (also a Jew) walked out on him, as he ruthlessly cut into
Antonio's flesh. Everything and every one have left Shylock, he is
destroyed by his own doings, he is even isolated by his fellow Jews.
Shylock can be seen as both comic and tragic because of his quick,
inconsiderate responses.

After all Shylock has done, I would class him as a villain. At the end
of the play, Jessica, Shylock's daughter created a sort of harmony
when she sings, as she is welcomed into the Christian community, She
sings a Jewish song and is happy and content. This shows that the fact
that Shylock is a Jew was not all his downfall, it was his evil
villainous rage and while Jessica a Jew has found peace.


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