Shylock in William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice


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Shylock in William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice

In the "Merchant of Venice", Shylock’s character undergoes a
metamorphosis from victim to villain. Christians looked down on him,
and he suffered humiliation and prejudice because of his job as a
usurer and because of his race. However, he is also vengeful and
cunning, and jumps at every chance to take revenge for himself. During
the time that the play was set there were not many Jews in Venice as
the Christians were Anti – Semitism. Christians thought of Jews as
hard hearted and made separate rules for them, for example, Jews were
not allowed to retaliate if a Christian hit them or called them names,
they also had too wear only Jewish clothes so that they stood out.
Christians hated and feared the Jews and they blamed them for the
death of Jesus. Antonio, Bassanio and their friends mocked Shylock, as
he is a Jew and his job was a money lender.

We are first introduced to Shylock in Act I Scene 3, where we learn
about his job as a usurer. In this scene, Bassanio seeks Shylock out
and asks for a loan in Antonio's name. Antonio needs the money to win
Portia’s hand in marriage. Shylock hates Antonio because of all the
things he has called him and for all the many times he has spat on him
‘ You call me misbeliever, cut – throat dog, and spit on my Jewish
gaberdine’ We feel sorry for Shylock During this speech as he reveals
to the audience and readers what he has to cope with and what Antonio
calls him. Shylock displays his hatred for Antonio, and agrees to
lend Antonio the sum of 3,000 ducats only if Antonio is bound by law
to pay it back. We see Shylock as a Villain in this scene as he plans
his revenge on Antonio by instead of charging interest shylock tells
Antonio that he will take a pound of flesh if the money is not repaid
in 3 months, Shylock here does not know whether he will get his pound

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of flesh but is counting on every one of his ships to go down! Shylock
also shows himself here as devious and cunning by hiding his hatred by
a façade of friendship in order to entice Antonio to become indebted
to him, not just with money but also with life.

We soon have our sympathy turned to Shylock as the last of his
family, Jessica his daughter, runs away too get married to Lorenzo (a
Christian) and takes with her her father’s ducats and jewels. Jessica
upsets her father by also taking his late wife’s ring and selling it
for a monkey. Shylock is very vulnerable now and Salerio and Solanio
choose this time too torment him, they taunt him about his losses and
mock him -‘…. I for my part knew the tailor that made the wings she
flew withal.’ Although Shylock has an arguably unhealthy thirst for
revenge, we empathise with what he is feeling because it is natural to
want to avenge yourself when you have been wronged. This torments
Shylock and we hear him give his famous speech. The passionate speech
is designed to evoke the audience’s sympathy – ‘ If you prick us, do
we not bleed?’ This part of the speech points out that Jews are just
as human as Christians and should be treated and respected in the same
way. Shylock at the end of his speech tells us that he has had enough
of the mistreating, name calling and spitting and that he wants
revenge, ‘ The villainy you teach me I will execute, and it shall go
hard but I will better the instruction.’ ( I will have my revenge and
I will make it better.)

Shylock endures many anti Semitic comments and the majority of
Christians refer too him as ‘ the devil’ – solanio in particular calls
shylock a devil in act 3 scene 1 when they taunt him of his losses.
Shylock gets called a ‘dog’ and spat upon by the people who then have
the hypocrisy too ask him for money.

Things soon change when news that all of Antonio’s ships are down
arrives with shylock, form the tubal and we see Shylock as a villain
again when he is delighted to hear this and is eager to get Antonio
into court. Shylock gets his wish and has Antonio arrested and taken
to court were he will not change his mind about the bond. In the play
Shylock is ‘waiting by the door’ this shows him again as a villain as
he is desperate too kill Antonio. Little does anybody know that Portia
is disguised as Doctor Balthazar and Nerissa as the lawyer’s clerk.
Portia plays along with Shylock while he is sharpening the blade of
his knife on his shoe (eager to kill.) Portia realises that she is
getting nowhere, and she then uses Venetian Law against him ‘ Take
then thy bold…but in cutting it, if thoust shed one drop of Christian
blood, thy lands and goods are by the laws of Venice confiscate unto
the state of Venice. Shylock gives up and leaves the play with nothing
but Christianity.

In conclusion, I feel that ultimately shylock is both a victim and a
villain. The way he treats those he is close too, for example his
daughter Jessica, exposes his vindictive and villainous character but
then the way he gets treated by people close to him for example
Antonio and Bassanio makes us feel sympathetic for him. All through
the play we change our feelings towards Shylock, is he a villain? Is
he a victim? I think both.


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