Shylock is in many ways much more difficult for us to deal with today
than for Shakespeare's audience. We have seen a hatred for the Jews
since Shakespeare's time with Hitler's attempt to wipe out the Jewish
race, but people in Shakespeare's day were unlikely to have met Jews
who had not converted to Christianity as they had already been banned
from England for three hundred years. So people in England would be
opposing the character Shylock because they are ignorant of the Jews.
Jews had always been seen as a problem in the Middle Ages and had been
practising Judaism privately and secretly giving the impression that
they're scared and cautious of their religion, not being tolerated in
Throughout the last two thousand years, into the twentieth century,
Jews have been the victims of random pogroms. For instance, the
crusaders, who sought to rid the holy land of infidels in the middle
ages, murdered Jews and pillaged Jewish property whilst travelling to
the Middle East.
Racism still exists today and in 'The Merchant of Venice' through the
sufferance and rogue character of Shylock.
Shylock is portrayed as both a victim and a villain. His character is
ambiguous - he is portrayed as both a stereotypical Jew: vicious and
cunning, and also as a fastidious, compassionate person who deserves
our sympathy. His role is very complex.
At the beginning of the play, we find out that Shylock has suffered
lots of abuse at the hands of the Christians, particularly Antonio.
Antonio publicly humiliates Shylock and criticises him about the way
he lends money, which s...
... middle of paper ...
...Semitic, but in places
Shakespeare lets Shylock speak from the heart and we suddenly see him
as a human being, not an alien stereotype.
We can only guess at the way in which Shakespeare intended Shylock to
be portrayed. I feel that Shakespeare intended Shylock to be victim;
he was created to challenge the pre-conceptions and ideologies of the
Elizabethan era. I also think that it is not dynamic enough for us to
simply categorise Shylock as either victim or villain.
In conclusion, I feel that ultimately Shylock is a villain. The way he
treats those he is close to, for example his daughter Jessica exposes
his vindictive and ultimately evil character. He lets his lust for
vengeance engulf all other aspects of his life and his complete lack
of mercy towards Antonio renders him a villain in the eyes of the
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