Shylock in William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice


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Shylock in William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice


Although there are various sub plots in the Merchant of Venice,
Shylock plays a very central role, interacting with almost all of the
other characters to some degree.

I believe that Shakespeare has carefully crafted the character of
Shylock in great detail. He makes Shylock both a Jew and a money
lender, both of these things were despised by many Christians at the
time this was written. Shylock is introduced to the audience as a
controversial character. All his traits and characteristics are very
deliberate.

The character of Shylock is frequently used by Shakespeare to build
sympathy from the audience, which he quickly removes again. This
helps to keep the audience thinking about him and it helps to keep the
audience interested in the plot.

Shylock first appears as a cautious business man who lets us know how
badly he has been treated by Antonio, but we become aware that there
is also professional rivalry between the two.

When we first hear of Jessica leaving, we are told by Solanio. The
situation is bad for Shylock, he has lost his daughter, some money,
some jewels and all to a Christian, we should feel a great deal of
pity for Shylock at this point, but Shakespeare avoids this by not
having Shylock present on stage at this point and by having Solanio
make light of the situation, implying that his grief for his ducats
may even surpass his grief for his daughter.

“My daughter! O my ducats! O my daughter!

Fled with a Christian! O my Christian ducats!

When Shylock does appear his passion has subdued and been overtaken by
bitterness therefore are sympathies are reduced.

One of Shakespeare’s best known speeches is Shylocks powerful speech
after his daughter has abandoned him and unconfirmed news of Antonio’s
losses at sea are heard. He talks of all the times he feels he has
been wronged by Antonio and states bluntly the reason for this is he

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is a Jew he goes on to say;

“Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs,

Dimensions, senses, affections, passion? 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 as a

Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed?

If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison

Us do we not die?”

These rhetorical questions asked of the audience while they require no
answer it is almost impossible to disagree with anything said.
Shakespeare uses this speech to give us something in common with
shylock, to bond us to him to sympathise with him. Shylocks speech
makes the plight of the Jews personal, he makes a direct comparison of
Jews and Christians as people. This emotive speech builds up a lot of
sympathy towards Shylock, the audience begin to feel sorry for him,
but he then goes on to say;

“The villainy you teach me I will execute, and it

shall go hard but I will better the instruction.”

This tirade shows Shylocks bitter, vengeful side again losing him much
of the sympathy he has gained.

Before the trial the Duke describes Shylock as “an inhuman wretch.” He
shows no mercy despite many pleas for it.

“If every ducat in six thousand ducats

Were in six parts, and every part of a ducat,

I would not draw them. I would have my bond.”

He reveals in his position of strength over Antonio. The image of
shylock sharpening his knife on his shoe is a strong one which implies
anticipation and enjoyment of what is to come.

It is ironic that shylocks position of strength lies in his insistence
that the letter of the law be followed, “I stand here for law” as this
is in fact what leads to his downfall.

I think I feel some pity for Shylock. Prejudice is more unacceptable
today than in Shakespeare’s time, therefore to dislike someone for
their religion is also unacceptable

Shylock is often the victim, shunned for his religion and his
profession and is the eventual loser in the deal with Antonio. The
“heroes” of the play never repent their prejudice and indeed benefit
from it. Shylock loses his bond, his ducats, his daughter, his
birthright and his religion. The Merchant of Venice is considered to
be a romantic comedy but for shylock it is a tragedy.

The complexity of this character makes him very real, no one is all
good or all bad. Shylocks affection for his late wife is evident when
he is distressed that Jessica has parted with her mothers ring, a
thing most precious to Shylock, for a monkey! This shows a deep and
tender side of Shylock, we wonder if it is the way life has treated
him that has made him bitter, or if it is simply in his nature.

“It was my turquoise; I had it of Leah when I was a

bachelor: I would not have given it for a wilderness

Of monkey.”

This shows he is upset about the ring leaving him feeling bitter about
Jessica.

“I would my daughter were dead at my foot, and the

Jewels in hr ear! Would she be hearse at my foot, an the

ducats in her coffin!”

Shakespeare shows us on the one hand the prejudice which Shylock is
faced with but on the other hand, we see how bitter and twisted he can
be, his revenge knows no boundaries. Much of Shylocks behaviour merits
condemnation, but we hold back because of the prejudice he has to
endure.

Much of the sympathy built up in the play for Shylock is knocked down
by his behaviour and attitude immediately after, but he stands alone
and turns out to be his own worst enemy, so I pity him.


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