Shylock in William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice


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Shylock in William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice

The play was "A merchant of Venice" was written in 1599, in
Elizabethan times. Shakespeare's main two sources for writing the play
were two folk tales woven together. One involving a marriage suitors
choice among three chests and therefore winning here hand in marriage.
The other as based on a greedy creditor trying to extract a pound of
flesh from a man. A contemporary play written by Christopher Marlowe
gave Shakespeare the inspiration for the character of Shylock.

In Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice the antagonist of the play is
Shylock. Shylock is a wealthy Jewish moneylender. Shylock is probably
the most memorable character in the play because of Shakespeare's
excellent characterization of him. In the play Shylock loans Antonio
money, and out of jest he suggests that should the loan not be repaid
in time Shylock may cut off one pound of flesh from Antonio's body.
When Antonio's ships do not come in and he is not able to repay the
loan Shylock is no longer interested

in getting his money back. Shylock wants revenge for the loss of his
daughter and as his treatment as a Jew through the fulfilment of the
bond. After the loss of his daughter Shylock ran through the streets
crying "My daughter! O my ducats! O my daughter!" as children followed
him, mocking him. This causes us to feel sympathy for Shylock, even
though we may feel him to be a villain. Besides the loss of his
daughter and his ducats, after the trial Shylock also looses his
property and his religion. The loss of his property was certainly a
blow to Shylock but it can hardly compare to his loss of his religion.
His forced conversion to Christianity brings out more sympathy for
him.

However I believe that the context of the play does determine the
response of both the characters and audience, but I also believe that
Shylock is not as bad as he seems. Often, The character Shylock, in
Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, is portrayed as a beastly

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monstrosity, with a lust for Antonio's life. Through a more careful
examination it can be determined that Shylock was an upstanding member
of his community, who endured an endless amount of abuse. However he
did retaliate to some of this abuse. Shylock endured much of Antonio's
abuse, overt a long period of time.

The sheer volume of abuse he has to take throughout the play can see
this. A good example is:

"He hath disgraced me half a million, laughed at my losses,

mocked at my gains, scorned my nation, thwarted my bargains,

cooled my friends, heated mine enemies..."

Act 3 Scene 1, beginning with line 52-Shylock

In The Merchant of Venice Shylock, the Jew is characterised as the
scapegoat, just as the Jewish have been throughout history. Shylock's
prejudice and dislike for the Christians is largely based on their
mistreatment of him:


"Signior Antonio, many a time and oft

In the Rialto you have rated me

About my moneys and my usences:

Still have I borne it with a patient shrug,

For sufferance is the badge of all our tribe.

You call me misbeliever, cutthroat dog.

And spit upon my Jewish gaberdine,

And all for use of that which is mine own."

Act 1 Scene 3, beginning with line 103 -Shylock

Shylock feels the wrath of an unequal society and is frustrated by it:


"Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions,
senses, affections, passions? Fed with the same food, hurt with the
same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as a
Christian is?"

Act 3 Scene 1, beginning with line 52-Shylock

Shylock's hatred for the Christians is what causes him to pursue his
revenge on Antonio, however I feel that Antonio is the symbol of
racism in society and he openly exhibits it. He is not fazed in the
least after Shylock's downfall. However some would argue that this
shouldn't faze Antonio as Shylock has just tried to kill him.

The feud between Christians and Jews is something that has gone on for
a long time, it happened it in the play and still happens today. For
instance in the Second World War, Hitler used the Jews as scapegoat
for the troubles that Germany were having around that time. In
medieval England, the moneylender or usurer was a sinner therefore you
can imagine how the Christian community in Venice treated Shylock. No
doubt they treated him as an inferior being to them and they saw them
selves as more important and significant.

The audience know that Shylock is a hated character by the way that
the other characters interact with him. Bassanio voices his opinions
against Shylock:

"You shall not seal to such a bond for me: I'll rather dwell in my
necessity"

Act 1 Scene 3, beginning with line 150- Bassanio

Other examples of this are, in the courtroom where Portia, who has not
yet met Shylock, feels hatred towards him because he is a Jew. Finally
when the Duke of the courtroom expresses an opinion of Shylock:

"A stony adversary, an inhuman wretch"

Act 3 Scene 4

Many people depended on Shylock's loans for help although no one
really accepted interest which they had to pay back along with the sum
of the money, which was borrowed. Shylock gained success in his money
lending. Shylock made it clear that his relationship with Christians
was strictly business. He makes it clear that this deal is strictly
business because he does not want to socialise with Christians, this
would, in a way, be going against his religion. A quote that supports
this is:

"I will buy with you, sell with you, talk with you, walk with

you, and so following; but will not eat with you, drink

with you, nor pray with you."

Act 1 Scene 3, beginning with line 32-Shylock

This passage tells us that Shylock was willing to offer his
profit-making services to Christians but was not prepared to socialise
with them. This tells us that he does not want to be friends with
Christians.

Towards the end of the play when Shylock has trapped Antonio in, what
looks like a corner he may not escape out of, the audience are
obviously feeling sorry for Antonio. But I feel that Shylock is taking
his anger for the way the Christians of the world have treated him on
Antonio. I don't believe that shylock hates Antonio as a person
otherwise he would never have agreed to the bond. However Shylock does
say:

"I hate him for Christian"

Act 1 Scene 3, beginning with line 39-Shylock

I don't believe that this means he hates Antonio as a person but
purely because he is a Christian. If he hated Antonio he would have
said I hate Antonio.

In conclusion I do feel that the context of the play determines the
response of the audience and characters to Shylock. This portrayed in
what the characters say and act and how also Shylock responds to their
racism towards him. The Merchant of Venice shows the reader and
audience what a complicated character Shylock can be at times.


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