Shylock in William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice


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Shylock in William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice

Shylock is the most interesting and yet confusing characters in
Shakespeare's play “The Merchant of Venice.” He could be seen as just
another villain in a story made to be hated by the audience so that
his downfall later in the play can be a cheered at. Yet the character
of Shylock is much deeper than the stereotypical evil Jewish
moneylender, Shakespeare shows how he is a victim of racial
discrimination especially from the “loveable” hero of the story
Antonio. Shakespeare also suggests that it is this discrimination that
forces Shylock to act in revengeful and greedy ways.

In the very begging of the play Shylock displays himself as the
stereotypical Jewish villain by saying “I hate him, for he is
Christian” Shakespeare wrote this for a fully Christian audience in a
time where Jews were demonised for there role in “The Passion of
Christ” So this shallow statement would instantly turn the audience of
that time against Shylock. Furthermore, Shylocks role as a greedy
moneylender also show him as a man obsessed with wealth.

However, in the same scene Shylock states how Antonio mistreats him
and speaks racial abuse. He says, “You call me misbeliever, cut-throat
dog, and spit upon my Jewish gabardine” though in Shakespeare time the
audience may have cheered on Antonio for these anti-Semitic acts, in
more modern times this is more the acts of a villain. This victimises
Shylock for the first time showing him as a sufferer of racism,
although the 16th century audience would not have troubled over it.

Many other characters in the play vilify shylock even more; He is
referred to as “devil” many times. One example of this is when his own
daughter states, “Our house is hell, and thou, a merry devil, Didst
rob it of some taste of tediousness” this metaphoric statement
comparing the house to hell and her father to the devil demonises
Shylock by not only referring to him as the devil, also depriving him
on any close human relationships by showing his own daughters dislike

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for the Jew.

Shylock tries to defend himself with his own humanisation. This is
interesting, as much of Shakespeare’s audience would not have taken
Shylocks views into account before. They would have seen him as an
evil Jew and nothing more. Shylock gives his famous speech starting
“Hath a Jew not eyes?” this goes on equalling Jews to humans. He also
states “and if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?” This is a strong
argument attempting to justify his want for revenge. And also shows
how Jews have the same weaknesses as Christians, which is a way of
victimising Shylock by making him seem more human.

However, in the same scene he once again vilifies himself by showing
his love for money is greater than his love for his own daughter. When
informed about his daughters’ absence, he says “a diamond gone, cost
me two thousand ducats in Frankfort” showing how he cares not for the
loss of his daughter but for the loss of the money she stole. This is
to highlight the fact that Shylock is still a greedy moneylender and
display him as a villain.

Shylock demonstrates his own villainess by openly displaying his
eagerness to extract a pound of flesh from Antonios bosom. This shows
a new type of villainy in Shylock, rather than just greedy and Jewish,
he is now bloodthirsty. Furthermore, his violence is directed at the
hero Antonio, this would further enrage the audience against the Jew.

To conclude Shakespeare created the character Shylock as a villain,
his Jewish money-lending stereotype and hatred for any character loved
by the audience made him an object to be jeered at by audience.
However, Shakespeare tried to give Shylock a deeper side by
illustrating him as a victim of what others see in him, a victim of
racism. Yet in the time the play was written the British Christian
audience would not have cared much for him, and his pleas for equality
were possible sneered at. But this shows how Shakespeare was in a way
a few centuries ahead of his time.


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