Shylock in William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice

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Shylock in William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice

A key feature of the play 'The Merchant Of Venice' is the issue of

whether Shylock is a victim or a villain. This issue is raised at many

crucial points most of which can be separated into the categories

victim or villain.

Act 1 Scene 3 displays Shylock as a sensible business man. This is our

first introduction of Shylock and therefore produces our first

impressions. The first point where Shylocks' character is revealed in

detail is during his soliloquy of lines 37 - 48. At this point Shylock

gives an aside to the audience which no character can hear. We learn a

lot about Shylocks' behaviour toward Antonio and Christians in

general. This shows a man who wants revenge and who is desperate to

get his own back, as the text says; 'Cursed be my tribe if I forgive

him!' This shows that Shylock feels it his duty to his nation (the

Jews) to seek revenge on Antonio. This entire speech displays Shylock

as a villain, a heartless man who is not willing to forgive.

During Act1 Scene 3 our feelings toward Shylock change dramatically.

Shylock is portrayed as a villain until the point where Antonio

enters. Antonio does not treat Shylock with any respect despite the

fact that he is asking for a favour, this causes us to feel sympathy

toward Shylock and he suddenly becomes less villainous. We begin to

wonder why Antonio acts this way, when making the decision of the bond

Shylock stalls and delays frequently, in order to plot his terms of

the bond. This shows his villainous side and how much he wants to get

Antonio. When Shylock has stated the terms his attitude changes and he

then tries to...

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...oses the court case we expect him to walk home, head

hung low, but the Christians do not allow this. Shylock is forced to

make a will in favour of Lorenzo and become a Christian, which to

Shylock means going to hell. If a Jew disgraced his religion (by

becoming a Christian) he would be damned to hell. Shylock would rather

be dead than be a Christian. This treatment is very cruel and far too

extreme. We feel for Shylock and he is seen as a victim.

To conclude, it is very easy to see Shylock as a victim or a villain.

It does seem though that anytime he acts in a villainous way it is

caused by extreme pressure and prejudice from the Christians. This

villainous side is not the true Shylock. Shylock is a kind decent man,

a good father. He is merely cursed by a Jewish background, struggling

to survive in a Christian world.