Shylock in William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice

Shylock in William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice

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Shylock in William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice

'The Merchant of Venice' was written by William Shakespeare in the
Elizabethan period .The play is a tragic-comedy written in his second
period. It is set in Venice in the late 15th century. In this period,
religion is a very big part in people's lives, with Christianity the
most dominant in this area, and people were looked very poor upon for
not attending, sometimes even arrested. As a result, Shylock is
condemned before the plot has even begun because he is a Jew. At this
time in England the Christians hated the Jews, because of their
profession of lending money, which the Christians by religion are
unable to do. Jews were often forbidden to own land or engage in trade
in England so the only occupation open to them was money lending,
which they exploited to the full extent.

At this time, there was a great deal of tension between Jews and
Christians. For example, the centre of Venice was a Christian
community, whereas Jews where excluded to the outskirts. They were
portrayed as inferior to Christians. Shakespeare himself took a great
risk in writing this play, as he almost shows pity for Shylock, which
could have been interpreted wrongly and caused public uproar. Luckily,
he was able to create this sense of pity in the public.

Shakespeare uses Venice for two reasons. First of all, in the period
that it was written, Venice was a wealthy city, full of commerce,
which was a result of trade routes crossing straight through it. This
creates an image of trading for the play, which is an apt name for the
title, The Merchant Of Venice. Secondly, it could not be set in
England as the Jews were a very controversial subject at the time and
it would be very dangerous to write a play set in England about this
subject. By setting it in Venice, it creates a distance between the
audience and the play, while still relating to their lives.

Shylock is a Jewish moneylender trying to make a living and survive in

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a country that despises him and alienates him. His first line in the
play is 'Three thousand ducats'. This could be seen as him trying to
make a living by the only means possible, or a cold, malicious man
only wanting to spite Christians. I feel he fits the latter the best,
although it is a result of the first. His cruel treatment and long
struggle for a living has forced him to be a ruthless man, with
nothing but money at heart. This is demonstrated with his obsession in
keeping his house locked up. At one point, he reduces his daughter to
tears by striking her for not locking his house. This shows he is
interested in nothing but his money and possessions, even when his
family are at risk.

After Jessica (his daughter) and Lorenzo flee from Shylock with his
possessions, he is left alone with no family, and much of his wealth
taken. This is very tormenting for him. He earns pity from the
audience when he tells Bassanio that 'My daughter is my flesh and
blood', meaning that with her gone it is as if a part of him has been
taken too. He shows the villain side of him when he screams 'My
daughter! O my ducats! O my daughter! Fled with a Christian! Only
Christian ducats!' This shows his hatred for Christians, and also
shows that cares as much for his money, if not more, as he does for
his own daughter.

Shylock's pleas in Act three, Scene Five, shows him as a victim or
constant abuse from Christian's. 'What's his reason? I am a Jew. Hath
not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses,
affections, passions, fed with the same food, hurt with the same
weapons'. He is saying that we are all the same, just follow different

Told that his ships have sunk, Antonio is now bankrupt, and by
Venetian law must grant Shylock a pound of flesh. In this, the
courtroom scene, in Act Four, Scene One, shylock is shown as a
villain. As he walks in and places the 'Scales of Justice' on the
table, a tarnished image of him is created as he begins preparing his
knife on his boot. This scene is the last chance he gets in the play
to exact his revenge on Antonio, but more specifically, Christians.
The court is clearly biased against him right from the start. 'Go on,
and call the Jew into the court' This shows how biased against him the
judge is, referring to him by his religion instead of his name. The
judge is influencing the court with his prejudice beliefs to turn them
against Shylock. A Christian Court, not a Court of Law, is trying him.

Shylock demands his pound of flesh from Antonio's body as a result of
his failure to pay back the money that he owed after taking a loan. He
makes the point that he is legally entitled to this, and is clearly
looking forward to it, as he sees it as revenge for the cruel
treatment he has suffered throughout his life.

During the trial, sympathy for Shylock is lost as he continues to show
no mercy for Antonio with his words and actions. He is just about top
cut into Antonio's flesh when Portia, disguised as a judge, stops him.

She reveals that there is a flaw in the bond. He is allowed his pound
of flesh, but states nowhere that he may draw blood, which is
forbidden by Venetian law. 'If thou doest shed one drop of Christian
blood, thy lands and goods are, by the laws of Venice, confiscated
unto the state of Venice'. Shylock realises he cannot win and his only
plan of revenge has been thwarted. Coincidently, the law also shows
how poorly Jews are looked upon, as it says nothing about the shedding
of Jewish blood.

Now Shylock faces prosecution, as a law also states that an alien
wishing to murder a Venetian must also face trial. Yet again, Shylock
is made an outsider in his home.

As a result of this, his possessions are confiscated and he faces
execution. Antonio makes two conditions on his life. First, he must
become a Christian, and secondly, he must leave all his possessions to
Jessica and Lorenzo. Not only does he feel humiliated at being made a
Christian by the court, but he also has lost his only friend, Tubal,
who walked out as Shylock was about to cut the pound of flesh. His
cruel intentions have backfired and he is now left with nothing.

Shylock can be described in this play as both a comic and a tragic. A
comic because of his quick-witted responses to the insults thrown at
him every day, and a tragic because of the loss of his friend, his
daughter and his belongings.

I personally feel Shylock is a victim in this story. A victim of
constant abuse and torment that have pushed him to the edge of
insanity and have led him to hate the Christians. This hatred for
those who are responsible for his misery is, in my mind, often
miss-interpreted as part of a cold personality, although quite the
opposite is true. He is in fact a quit businessman that only wishes to
make a living, but due to his constant torture, has been made into a
cold-blooded villain.

The end of the story shows Jessica singing a Jewish song, happy that
she has been accepted into the Christian community. This also makes
about Shylock; that he has been an out cast all his life, due to his
evil ways, not the fact he is Jewish, as Jessica, also a Jew, has been
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