Shylock: Villain or Victim?


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Shylock: Villain or Victim?



In this essay I will look into the question of whether Shylock is
villain or victim and then answer it with my own opinion. To do this I
intend to examine the following, Shylock and the persecution of the
Jews and by focusing on the courtroom scene and the formation of the
bond scene.


Previous history
----------------

Jews have been previously persecuted even before 1500 in Spain, Rome,
France, the Middle East, Western Europe and Austria. They have
suffered exile, torture, conversion, been massacred and even had their
land Israel taken by the Turks.


The Plot
--------

The plot of this story, ~The Merchant of Venice by Shakespeare, is as
follows; Bassino, a noble Venetian gentleman, has spent all of his
money. He wishes to amend his fortunes in order to marry Portia, a
rich heiress, who lives in Belmont. He asks his friend Antonio, (the
Merchant of Venice) to help him by lending him 3000 ducats. However
all of Antonio's money is tied up in ships trading across the world so
he can only offer to use his good name to borrow money for Bassino.
Antonio and Bassino approach Shylock, a rich Jew, who agrees to lend
the amount but makes Antonio sign a bond known as, "the pound of
flesh", which states that if Antonio does not pay back Shylock in
three months, Shylock is entitle4d to cut off a pound of Antonio's
flesh. Until he thought of the bond Shylock was unwilling to lend the
money because of the fact that he is a Christian who does not believe
in usury. This is today's equivalent of lending money with interest.
As a result he will make no money from lending to Antonio.

Shortly after, Shylocks daughter, Jessica, runs off with most of his
money and a Christian Lorenzo, aided by Bassinos friends. Shylock is
devastated and hates the Christians even more. This scene shows
Shylocks villainous side because of the fact that when he discovers
that his daughter and money have gone he is more concerned about his

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money.

Bassino goes to Belmont and wins Portia's hand in marriage by choosing
the correct casket: a test given to suitors of Portia, (a dying wish
of her now dead father). Bassino's friend, Gratlano, marries Portia's
maid Nerrisa.

Three months pass and a court case is set to deal with the bond, as
the money has not been repaid. Portia and Nerrisa, disguised as a
lawyer and clerk, go to the court to defend Antonio. Portia cleverly
defeats Shylock over the wording of the bond. This scene also portrays
Shylock as a villain because of his desire for revenge in the form of
the bond, (even when offered more money). Portia finds a legal
loophole in the fact t6hat the bond states that only flesh is to be
taken and not blood and because Shylock's action has threatened the
life of a Venetian citizen, court action cannot incur the death
penalty. Instead Shylock looses halve of his estate and wealth and is
forced to become a Christian.

I do not believe that the victim element of Shylock displayed through
the persecution of his religion is fairly represented in Shakespeare's
play because there is no description of the limited freedom and small
locked away communities Jews were forced to live in at this time.
However, there are some ways in which Shylock is fairly represented as
a victim. For example, the way he is treated by Antonio who has spat
on his coat. This is a scene in the play but is a memory expressed by
Shylock. In Act 3, Scene 1, Shylock also states his feelings of hurt
relating to what I described as unfairly represented persecution when
he states……."Hath not a Jews eyes?"………."Hath not a Jews hands, organs,
dimensions?". In saying this he is repeating humanistic nouns and
listing similarities between Jews and Christians. Therefore, it is
obvious that he resents being treated as an inferior being and sees
himself and his religion as equal to that of Christians.

Jews had been treated badly long before1500. In the years 300 - 600
there was violence against Jews in France, Spain and Rome. In 1071 the
Turks took Jerusalem and then in1394Jews suffered expulsion from
France. The same happened in Spain in 1492. Therefore, Shylocks
ancestors have always been treated this way and this is how we know
shylock as a victim. However, Shylock has a villainous side. We first
see this in the forming of the bond. The name "a pound of flesh" makes
the reader/audience doubt this bond is just a merry sport as Shylock
states it as. We next see Shylock as a victim when he seems more
concerned about his money that his daughter after he has lost both.
The fact that his daughter has run off with a Christian to be married
increases the hatred he feels towards Christians. In the Courtroom
scene we must see most of Shylock's villainous side. First because
even when offered the money, he still wants revenge- almost as if he
has no humanity or is blinded by his desperate desire for revenge.
Also in reply a to why he wants the flesh he states "to bait fish
with, it will feed nothing else it will feed my revenge". This
intention to take life is very unforgiving and unlawful and again
shows Shylock as lacking humanity. This is Shylocks most villainous
trait as well as his constant repetition of the word 'revenge'. He
also quotes "let him look to his bond" to prove that to take Antonio's
flesh is his right. His love of wealth. Possibly more than the love of
his daughter (which is shown when he says "my ducats, my daughter, my
ducats") shows he possibly loves his ducats twice as much as his
daughter and is yet another villainous trait.


Conclusion
----------

I believe Shylocks both villain and victim because of the way he is
largely represented as both in Act 3 Scene 1, in which we see his
villainous and victim sides in the speech beginning "hath not a Jew…".
This speech shows that Shylock has wronged in the form of wanting
revenge and has been wronged by being persecuted.


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