Sympathy for Shylock in William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice
- Length: 1234 words (3.5 double-spaced pages)
- Rating: Excellent
The Merchant of Venice is about a rich Christian merchant who borrows
money from a Jewish moneylender to help his friend in marriage.
Antonio borrows money from Shylock because Bassanio, one of Antonio's
best friends, needed the money to impress Portia of Belmont. Although
Antonio is rich, all his money is tied up in his business of shipping
"Thou know'st that all my fortunes are at sea". Portia comes from a
wealthy family, in her fathers will he says only the person who
chooses the right casket can ask Portia's hand in marriage "the
lottery that he hath devised in these three chests of gold, silver,
and lead, whereof who chooses his meaning chooses you". Her father
probably wanted someone like himself to marry his daughter.
The bond that Shylock suggested was if Antonio didn't pay the money
back in time at a certain place, he would have one pound of his flesh
from where he chooses "If you repay me not on such a day, in such a
place, such sum or sums as are expressed in the condition, let the
forfeit be nominated for an equal pound of your fair flesh, to be cut
and taken in what part of your body pleaseth me." Shylock presented
the bond as a joke "in a merry sport"; I think Antonio thought it was
just a joke as well, other wise he wouldn't have accepted as gladly;
he was also very confident that he could pay the money back in time "I
do expect return of thrice three times the value of this bond."
Shylock suggested such a bond because he hated Christians, he wanted
revenge "If I can catch him once upon hip, I will feed fat the ancient
grudge I bear him." In the 1500, Jews who settled in Europe were
treated with suspicion and were increasingly isolated from general
society. Some cities would not admit Jews at all; being racist was
totally acceptable. Some Jews in Europe proved successful in business
and trade, and were considered to have some usefulness.
Antonio seems to be a good honourable man, but here Shylock is talking
about how Antonio has been racist to him before "You call me
misbeliever, cut throat dog, and spit upon my Jewish gaberdine".
Antonio doesn't seem so honourable anymore, he sounds like the most
racist. The reader would feel a lot of sympathy for Shylock at this
time because he has been called many things and his people are classed
differently "you spat on me Wednesday last, you spurned me such a day,
another time you called me dog"
Solanio and Salarino joke about Jessica running away "My daughter! O
my ducats! O my daughter! Fled with a Christian! O my Christian
ducats! Justice! The Law! My ducats and my daughter!" They twist
Shylock's words making fun of him at the same time, Shylock says "My
own flesh and blood to rebel!" and Solanio says "rebel it at these
years?" asking if he can't get an erection. When she ran away with a
Christian, she stole money, jewels "A diamond gone cost me two
thousand ducats, in Frankfurt" "and precious, precious jewels!" and
the ring Shylock's wife gave him "it was my turquoise, I had it of
Leah when I was a bachelor." Shylock is very angry at this "I would my
daughter were dead at me foot, and the jewels in her ear: would she
were hearse at my foot, and the ducats in her coffin." He's angry
enough to want her daughter to be dead; this anger is caused by the
ring "I would not have given it for a wilderness of monkeys." The ring
had a lot of sentimental value to him; I think Shylock is very
surprised at his daughter "My own flesh and blood to rebel!" Shylock
is just getting through the agony of his daughter running away and he
has to put up with other people's stupid remarks. The reader would
feel sympathetic towards Shylock for all that he has lost, but
straight away we regret felling sympathetic because he seems to worry
about his money more than his daughter, he even wants her dead. I
think Jessica is a bit too rebellious; she shouldn't have run away in
the first place, even if she did run away she shouldn't have stolen
from her own father, needless to say she has no respect for her
Shylock gives an antiracial speech in Act 3 Scene 1 "Hath not a Jew
eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections,
passions? Fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject
to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by
the same winter and summer a Christian is?" Shylock is saying this
speech about Jews and Christians being the same; we feel much sympathy
for him because his people are badly treated and he thinks they
deserve the same rights. The audience must feel a sudden sympathy for
all the Jews and more dislike for the Christians, why should human
beings be treated differently because of their religion?
One of Antonio's ships had sunk in the English Channel "Antonio hath a
ship of rich lading wrecked on the Narrow Seas". He also had a ship
wrecked in Tripolis "hath an argosy cast away coming from Tripolis."
Antonio isn't able to pay the money back because of news that all of
his ships had sunk. It turns out that his ships didn't all sink; but
they still came too late.
Finally Antonio and Shylock go to court, or the Dukes palace, to
proceed with the bond, Act 4 Scene 1. The Duke reveals prejudices by
calling Shylock names "A stony adversary, an inhuman wretch, uncapable
of pity, void and empty from any dram of mercy." and he calls him
"Jew" rather than by his name.
Shylock still keeps to the bond, even after Bassanio offers him twice
the original money and more "twice the sum, if that will not suffice,
I will be bound to pay it ten times o'er on forfeit of my hands, my
head, my heart." Bassanio is willing to die for Antonio.
Portia comes disguised as Balthazar and Nerissa (Her maid and friend)
disguised as a clerk. Portia talks of the qualities of mercy "It is
twice blest: It blesseth him that gives and him that takes."
Portia agrees with the bond and the law "A pound of that same
merchant's flesh is thine, the court awards it, and the law doth give
it." She then says, "This bond doth give thee here no jot of blood."
"if thou dost shed one drop of Christian blood, thy lands and goods
are by the law of Venice confiscate unto the state of Venice." Portia
has found a loophole in the bond; Shylock was so close to having his
revenge; Shylock doesn't have much choice "Pay the bond thrice and let
the Christian go." Shylock wants three times the original sum. Portia
then finds another loophole "Shed no blood, nor cut thou less nor more
but just a pound of flesh." She's saying he can't cut more or less
than a pound of flesh and he can't shed blood. If he did cut more or
less than pound then the consequences would be the same as shedding
blood "Thou diest, and all thy goods are confiscate." Shylock has even
less choice and asks for his original sum and to leave "Give me my
principal and let me go." Shylock is really getting beaten here and he
has no one on his side defending him. I think Shylock deserves to be
helped at this point; the reader would feel very sympathetic towards
Portia doesn't even let him have his money "He hath refused it in the
open court. He shall have merely justice and his bond." She expects
him to have nothing; I feel very sorry for Shylock because he won't
have even his money.
It seems like it's all over, but Portia reads something that could
lead to Shylock's death, "proved against an alien that by direct or
indirect attempts he seeks the life of any citizen, the party 'gainst
the which he doth contrive shall seize one half of his goods, the
other half comes to the privy coffer of the state" And Shylock's life
lies in the "mercy of the Duke only, 'gainst all other voice." She has
taken from him everything, and maybe even his life; half his money is
Antonio's. I feel very much sympathy for Shylock; he not only didn't
get his revenge, but also has lost everything, his daughter, and his
money to his worst enemy and maybe his life. The Duke shows some mercy
and spares his life "I pardon thee thy life before thou ask it." The
reader might of thought that no one would show Shylock any mercy.
Every time Portia strikes she gets worse and worse, I think Shylock
deserves a lot of sympathy and I think the reader would also give a
lot of sympathy.
Antonio doesn't want Shylocks money, but gives him a punishment "He
presently becomes a Christian; the other, that he do record a gift,
here in this court, of all he dies possessed unto his son Lorenzo and
his daughter." The Duke refuses to let him live if he didn't accept it
"He shall do this, or else I do recant the pardon that I late
pronouncèd here" I think the punishment Antonio said was a bit severe
and sudden, he's asking someone to change his religion and what he has
believed all his life, and to give his money to his daughter who ran
away from him.
Shylock leaves a broken man; he doesn't feel well after all that has
happened "I am not well."
Throughout the story we feel sympathy for Shylock, but straight away
he does something that we don't like. The court scene seemed to
confirm my sympathy for Shylock; it stands because everyone is against
him, he has lost a lot; although killing someone is wrong, he still
can't even get revenge, all because he is a Jew.