The Character of Shylock in William Shakespeare's Play
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Shylock is a Jewish money lender living in Venice in the 1600s. He is
a widower and has a daughter who he does not care about. In Venice
Jews were discriminated against because of their religion, they were
forced to live in separate places and were spat on. The definition of
a victim is someone who is picked on. A villain is someone who
discriminates about people. Venice was a trading city with ships
coming in and out.
My first point is about how Shylock is a victim. He is a victim
because he encounters a lot of racial abuse, verbal and physical.
Walking along the street it was common for Jews to be attacked by the
Christian Venetians. They were forced to wear a red hat and a yellow
badge. They lived in the ghetto which was locked up at night. We see
this in the play when Shylock says: ‘ you called me misbeliever, cut
throat dog and spat upon my Jewish gabardine.’ Shylock is called a
dog, and is often called a lower class animal by Christians, so they
were seen at the bottom of the hierarchy. I do feel sympathy for
Shylock because I would not like to be discriminated against because
of my beliefs.
We are given lots hints by Shakespeare about how Antonio and the
others refer to Shylock. Shylock is often called ‘the devil’ or ‘the
dog Jew’. He is seen as a completely evil person and opposite to the
Christians. He also often wasn’t called by his name, but referred to
as ‘the Jew’. This is also separating him, and also shows they do not
see him as a person.
Shylock heaps further pain on Shylock when his daughter elopes with a
Christian. She also took a lot of his money. Money was one of Shylocks
main reasons for life so he misses it greatly. He also misses Jessica
as a person, ‘my daughter is my flesh and blood.’ He still misses his
daughter even after what she did.
At this point in the play I do feel
sorry for Shylock because such bad things are happening to him, his
daughter leaving him, loosing money, and prejudice against him.
Legally as a Jew, Shylock has different rights in court. If a Jew
tries to take the life of a Christian the Jew would be killed. ‘If
thoust doust shed one drop of Christian blood thy lands and goods are
by the laws of Venice confiscate unto the state of Venice.’ The legal
system was unfair to the Jews. Shylock was never on an equal footing.
Shylock is not seen as a person in the court room they have already
decided Shylock is an evil person, they can see no good in him. ‘Hath
not a Jew eyes, hath not a Jew hands…hurt with the same weapons,’
shylock is trying to convince the Christians that he is a person not
an animal. This causes us to feel great sympathy for Shylock because
he has a point. Even if we do not like him we should treat him fairly.
This is the most emotional speech in the play and the repetition used
by Shakespeare helps add emphasis to Shylocks pleading to be treated
fairly. At this point Shylock is clearly a victim.
They add insult to injury when Shylock is forced to change religion.
The fact he never changes before shows his love for his religion: he
presently become a Christian’. Antonio is really enjoying hurting
Shylock, this is because Antonio has been brought up to believe that
Jews are wrong and evil so he feels that it is good to be mean to
them. Shakespeare makes us feel great sympathy towards Shylock by the
use of language, the characters in the court room talk more about
Shylock than to him. This shows us that they think he is lower than
them and doesn’t deserve their respect. The audience reaction to this
is sympathy and sadness because everybody deserves respect, however
this isn’t the reaction he would have received in Elizabethans times
as many people were anti-Semitic.
It is a woman who brings Shylock to his knees. This must add more pain
because in Shakespearian times women were considered possessions or a
piece of furniture. Shylock doesn’t realise that it is a woman because
she is in disguise but if he did he would have felt terrible. This
causes us to feel sympathy towards him because he doesn’t know how
terrible the situation is.
On the other hand there are many ways in which Shylock is a villain.
He fits the criteria for a stereotypical villain because he has money
as a motive, treats women badly, he is excluded and he is willing to
kill. I think Shylock has been trying to plot revenge for some time.
Antonio as well as many other Christian disliked that he charged
interest; ‘if I can catch him once upon the hip, I will feed the
ancient grudge I bear him’ Shylock tells us the grudge is old and he
is prepared to use violence. The feud is built up over many years;
they hate each others religion, way of life and livelihood. So, we can
see why the feud has developed and it is clear to the audience how we
should feel towards them both.
Antonio’s request for the three thousand ducat loan falls nicely in to
Shylock’s plan. Shylock says ‘well’ three times. This is because he is
planning his revenge. He was only interested in the bond because he
can see his chance for revenge. He is debating what to do whilst
saying ‘well’. This is him being villainous because he is using his
business to seek revenge. Shylocks choice of security on the loan is
very peculiar and villainous: ‘let the forfeit be nominated for an
equal pound of your fair flesh, to be cut off and taken in what part
of your body pleaseth me.’ Only an evil person would come up with such
a dastardly bond. This shows us that he is a villain because cutting
off that amount of flesh would kill a person especially near the heart
which is where Shylock picks. It would kill him because of the amount
of blood loss and damage to a major organ would be immense. Even
though Shylock this is taking it too far and it shows us what a
horrible person he is. Because this scene takes place so early in the
play Shakespeare is giving the audience clues that we are to dislike
Further evidence of his villainy is his hatred for the Christians: ‘I
hate him for he is a Christian.’ Antonio’s hatred for the Jews is
reciprocated in Shylocks hatred for the Jews. This shows us that in
the wealthy cultural city of Venice people couldn’t get along and
disapproved of people with different beliefs to their own. Not
accepting others is evil.
Another reason that Shylock is evil is his attitude to his daughter,
‘our house is hell.’ Jessica says she is kept prisoner in her house.
She has to do all the house work and doesn’t get any money. Jessica is
so miserable and knows she will never be allowed to marry so she is
forced to run away. Antonio’s friends mock him for his daughter
marrying a Christian which makes him want to get revenge even more.
Shakespeare brings this action to ahead in the trial. Shylock is
adamant that he wants revenge and isn’t persuaded by anything, even
the money. Even though money is important to him he turns down 6000
ducats because he wants his revenge so much.
When he asked to be merciful by Porsche he says: ‘I crave the law, the
penalty and the forfeit of my bond.’ This shows he doesn’t have a good
side to appeal to and is very evil, a nice person would have realised
how cruel it was to refuse compensation for another human beings life.
We don’t have sympathy for him here.
Shakespeare makes it very dramatic when Shylock sharpens his knife.
This adds further drama. ‘Why dost thou whet they knife so earnestly,’
Bassanio asks Shylock, who replies: ‘to cut the forfeiture from the
bankrupt there,’ Shylock shows us that he is over confident and
assumes he will win the case. Shylocks use of the word ‘cut’ shows us
how much he is looking forward to hurting Antonio. This shocks the
audience because it appears that Shylock is going to kill Antonio.
This is where we lose all compassion for Shylock because he is
merciless and is taking pleasure from the thought of hurting others.
Even money doesn’t mean anything to him anymore.
In conclusion I can see that Shylock is a victim because he suffers a
lot of racial hatred, and also he is referred to not by his name but
as ‘the dog.’ He is also a victim when his daughter elopes. However he
is a villain towards Antonio and takes a lot of pleasure from the
thought of others pain. So overall I believe that Shylock was a