Shylock in The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare


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Shylock in The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare


'The Merchant of Venice' is a play written by William Shakespeare. In
this play I will be analysing whether the character of Shylock is
classed as a villain or victim. His character is unclear, as he can be
seen as an orthodox Jew, where he is vicious and cunning, or he can be
seen as a nice and caring person. I will begin by explaining the ways
in which he can be seen as a villain.

Shylock is seen as a villain because of the way he acts towards other
people. Shylock is a very selfish man, and he will often only talk to
people if he knows it will affect him in a financial way. Shylock
resents Antonio because he lends out money without interest, this is
the reason why Shylock does not like him because it is bad for
Shylock's money lending business. This is showed when Shylock says,
'Gaoler…tell me not of mercy, This is the fool that lends out money
gratis.'

In Act 1 Scene 3, Antonio and Bassanio go to Shylock and ask him for a
loan. Shylock accepts because he sees this as a chance to make money
to help his business, this is why Shylock acts towards Antonio as a
friend saying, 'I would be friends with you, and have your love,
Forget the shames that you have stain'd me with.' Shylock then goes
alone and speaks to the audience and tells them how he really feels
towards Antonio, ' I hate him for he is a Christian…Cursed be my tribe
if I forgive him!' Shylock has planned a scheme, where he takes
Antonio's money away from him. Shylock is being very deceiving because
he is pretending to be Antonio's friend when really he hates him
inside. This shows Shylock as a villain as he is trying to rob Antonio
of his money.

Shylock is also seen as villainous in the way he treats his daughter
Jessica. In Act 2 Scene 5, he treats Jessica in the same way he may

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have treated Launcelot, because he treats her like a servant as he
orders her to lock up the house, 'Hear you me, Jessica: Lock up me
doors.' Once Jessica has done this Shylock goes out and eats with
Christians, this is when Jessica steals Shylock's money and jewels,
the reason she does this is probable because she is fed up with the
way she is being treated by her father and wants to leave. Shylock is
shown as a villain because of the way he has treated his own daughter.

When Shylock finds out about the way his daughter has left taking his
money and jewels with her, Shylock is amazingly more worried about his
money and jewels, 'I would my daughter be dead at my foot, and the
jewels in her ear!' The way he says this displays how he would not be
bothered if his daughter were dead if he could have his money and
jewels back. Again Shylock is portrayed as a villain for the way he
cares more about his money instead of his daughter.

In the courtroom, Shylock is offered three thousand ducats by Antonio
so that Shylock does not take a pound of flesh from his body. Shylock
refuses to accept the money saying that he has sworn an oath to the
bond, which means he is unable to go back on it. When Portia says he
cannot have a pound of Antonio's flesh, because if any blood is drawn
from Antonio's body then the bond is broken and Shylock will be
jailed. This is when Shylock knows that he has finally been beaten,
but he still tries to get all the money he can from Antonio. First he
asks for three times the bond, this is refused, and then two times the
bond, and finally the original payment. This clearly outlines
Shylock's great addiction to money, and his willpower to get back at
Antonio. After all this Shylock anticipates Antonio to show mercy
towards him even though Shylock has shown him none. This shows that
Shylock is selfish and because of the way he still tried to get money
out of Antonio puts him across as a villain.

I will now outline the ways in which Shylock is shown as a victim.

As the play begins, we can see that Shylock has suffered a lot of
abuse especially at the hands of Christians, in particular Antonio.
Antonio humiliates Shylock publicly and criticises him about the way
he lends money, in this way Shylock can be seen as a victim. In Act 1
Scene 3, Shylock says to Antonio, 'In the Rialto you have rated me
about my moneys and my usances, for sufferance is the badge of all our
tribe.' This draws sympathy to Shylock because of the way he has been
treated and humiliated, but he does nothing about it. He does not
stand up for himself, and because of this it shows him as a victim.

Anti- Semitism and racism is often thrown at Shylock throughout the
play from the Christians. An example of this is shown in Act 1 Scene
3, as it says that Antonio has spat at Shylocks gabardine, which is a
traditional coat worn by Jews, and that he also spat on his beard.
These two things symbolise Shylocks religion, and upon which must make
him feel hurt inside.

Salerio and Solanio continuously mock and make fun of Shylock's
religion throughout the play. In Act 2 Scene 8, Solanio says. 'As the
dog Jew did utter in the streets: My daughter! O my ducats! O my
daughter!' They are both laughing at the fact that Shylock has an
obsession with money and also because he has lost his daughter Jessica
as she has eloped with a Christian, Lorenzo. Solanio and Salerio only
play small characters in the play, and Shylock is seen as a victim
because even they make fun out of him.

Jessica, Shylock's daughters runs away with Lorenzo who is a
Christian, this leaves Shylock with no money and he is now alone. She
has stolen all of Shylock's money and his turquoise ring. The ring was
very precious to him, and makes Shylock very angry with Jessica as she
sold it to a monkey. This portrays him as a victim, as his own
daughter hates him. Jessica says that she is ashamed to be her
father's daughter, and describes her house as hell when she was with
him, 'Alack, what heinous sin is it in me to be ashamed to be my
father's child!

Shylock becomes more and more isolated during the play. First of all,
his servant Launcelot leaves him and goes to work for Bassanio, and
then his daughter leaves him to flee with Lorenzo. Both Lorenzo and
Bassanio are Christians; this suggests that he is once again a victim
in racism.

Sympathy is shown towards Shylock in the courtroom, as he loses
everything, his house, his money, his religion, and he is then forced
to give his money to Jessica and Lorenzo. The worst punishment of all,
is when he is forced to switch to Christianity, this is because his
religion was very important to him, and it makes it worse because he
already hates Christians. This again is another form of racism,
because it is virtually saying that Christianity is the best religion
and that you cannot be Jewish.

When the play was written, Jewish people had little rights; this was
because Christianity was the preferred religion. A lot of people in
the play refer to Shylock simply as a 'Jew', this is suggesting that
is being hated only because he is a Jew. Portia uses influential
language to encourage the Duke and the audience that Shylock is
guilty. He is then found guilty again because of his religion, this
again finds him as the victim for he is a Jew and has been treated
unfairly.

Solanio is one of many in the play who consign Shylock as the devil,
'…lest the devil…here comes in the illness of a Jew', Antonio also
speak of him in the same way, 'The devil can cite scripture for his
purpose', the final person to do so it Salerio, 'That's certain, if
the devil may be her judge'. This is because they felt that as he is a
Jew, which they hate, he is like the devil, who is seen as a person
who is evil and a person that everyone hates, which is the exact way
Christians felt towards Shylock.

'If you prick us do we not bleed…If you poison us do we not die? And
if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?' this is said by Shylock as he
tries to take sympathy from the audience and readers. He is trying to
get the point across that Christians are just the same as Jews as they
are both human beings, they just follow a different religion. This
displays Shylock as a victim as he is being racially abused once
again.

Shylock's role in the play changes a great deal, because one moment he
is being discriminated because he is a Jew and the next moment he
tries to trick Antonio into giving him money that he knows Antonio
cannot not pay back. Overall, I do not think that Shylock can be
described as a villain or victim because he shows parts in the play
where he is both.


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