Shylock: A Villain or a Victim?

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In The Merchant of Venice, it seems that William Shakespeare often invites the audience to feel hatred towards Shylock, but perhaps William Shakespeare means to invite the audience to feel the opposite. Shylock is shown as someone who is incredibly money hungry, materialistic, and only cares about his ducats rather than the fact that his own daughter, Jessica, has abandoned him for a Christian fellow named Lorenzo. Throughout venice' class='brand-secondary'>The Merchant of Venice, it is easy to see why one would think of Shylock as the symbol of the devil, but perhaps William Shakespeare intended for Shylock to be portrayed as the misunderstood victim.
It is evident throughout the play that Shylock is a victim of a form of racism, namely anti-Semitism. At the start of The Merchant of Venice, it is revealed in Act 1, Scene 3 that Antonio mistreated him in the past. Shylock recalls how Antonio “rated [him] About [his] moneys and [his] usances” (1.3.105-106), while also calling him a “misbeliever, cutthroat dog,/ And [spitted] upon [his] Jewish gabardine” (1.3.107-108). Shylock is mistreated by Antonio solely because he is Jewish. Antonio insults him about his money lending and religion. Antonio spitting on his Jewish clothes in the past shows disrespect towards Shylock because he spits on Shylock’s clothes as if they are nothing. Shylock also experiences racism near the end of the play during court when he is treated badly and looked down upon everyone, such as the Duke. The Duke calls Shylock an “inhumane wretch” (4.1.4), but has no knowledge of the situation. The court session has just begun and no details of the situation have been released, yet the Duke discriminates Shylock already. At this point in the play, the Duke only knows that Shylock is Jewish, the...

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...shows that he is true to his late wife, Leah. The only reason for Jessica giving up Shylock’s precious turquoise ring is that Shylock is Jewish. He is her own father, and yet she so blindly gives it away for her own selfish desires.
Not only is Shylock portrayed as deeply human, and a victim of racism and neglect, he is never shown any mercy. Given that Antonio decides not to seize half of Shylock’s money for trying to kill him, one might consider him to be merciful, but one may also question whether it is merciful to strip Shylock of so much more. Shylock is forced by Antonio to convert to Christianity, thus disabling him from practicing his money lending, which is the primary reason for Antonio’s mistreating him in the past. In other words, Antonio only shows “mercy” to Shylock for his own benefit and not Shylock’s. Shylock’s sentencing was completely merciless.
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