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Shylock in The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare

Powerful Essays
Shylock in The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice contains an array of interesting and complex characters. From the alternately generous and grasping Antonio to the alternately love stricken and exploitative Bassanio to the vulnerable and manipulative Portia, this play has an abundance of multi-layered personalities.

However, one of the most intriguing characters is also the most oft-vilified and minimized in the work. This character, Shylock, is certainly just as compelling as any of the aforementioned—if not more so, because he acts as the catalyst for the majority of the interesting sections of the play (i.e. The flesh pact, the court scene etcetera). It is certainly undemanding to simply label Shylock a stereotypical stock character: the greedy, vindictive and bloodthirsty villain. Surely, there are more than enough instances available to label him as such (1.3.38-49, 3.1.59-62), 3.1.372-375). However, there also exists another possible, yet neglected, description of Shylock's character: the aggrieved, marginalized and putupon minority. As the text repeatedly reminds us, Shylock is Jew; moreover, a Jew in a predominantly Christian Venice. He is an individual that is consistently attacked at every opportunity by supposedly goodly Christian characters (1.3.103-105, 108-110, 2.8.15-17). It is to be expected that someone living in those peculiar circumstances would lash out when the chance eventually arises—in this case, Antonio is the target of the wrath. So, to those who would argue that Shylock is a mean-spirited, unforgiving and avaricious character, I would respond: of course he is. But he can also be seen as a distressed, violated and desperate ...

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...ts to the inherent contradictions in the practices of Christians: that they prize their “humility”--that is, until they have a chance to revenge themselves on a Jew that has wronged them. These words have the color of a man well acquainted with the unfairness and unbalance of the system; that a Christian can pursue retribution against a Jew without consequence but when a Jew does exactly the same, he or she is further demonized. He then concludes that he will follow and then exceed the precedents set by his Christian counterparts by seeking revenge: “The villainy you teach me I will execute, and it shall go hard but I will better the instruction” (66-67). Here, it is visible that Shylock has finally recognized his chance for a didactic display of revenge against his tormentors; he will finally show them how it feels to be powerless, to be fearful...to be victims.