Shylock in William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice


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Shylock in William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice

In my opinion I think that Shylock is a villain in the 'Merchant of
Venice' because he is portrayed as a ruthless money-lender. The plot
of the 'Merchant of Venice' is centred on Shylock, a Jewish money
lender who is trying to survive in a country, which despises him, and
alienates him from society. He has made a bond with Bassanio and
Antonio that if his ships do not come back then he would take a pound
of his flesh due to the debt of 3000 ducats. Shylock becomes obsessed
with obtaining Antonio's pound of flesh that he tries anything to get
it. In the sixteenth century Christians didn't treat Jews the same
because they hated the traditional profession of Jews which was
lending money to gain a profit, this is shown in the way William
Shakespeare portrays Shylock. We also see different relationships and
struggles between the other characters in the play.

In 16th century Venice there was great opposition between Christians
and Jews. The centre of Venice was made up of mostly a Christian
population and the Jews were situated outside the perimeters in
ghettos. This shows that Jews were somewhat alienated from Venetian
society and from all Christian society. Jews were seen as inferior to
Christians and they were not allowed to own any type of land. Jews
were also singled out by them having to wear specially colour hats to
distinguish them from the rest of the Venetians. In years before, Jews
were persecuted because of their religion and to years leading up to
when Shakespeare wrote the 'Merchant of Venice' they were still being
prejudice to Jews. These persecutions took place because of the
Christians belief that the Jews were involved in the death of Jesus
Christ. Shakespeare might of added this character to the play because
he might of wanted to show the Christians that Jews still suffer the
same as them and that they have feelings too. Shakespeare might of
also put the character Shylock into the 'Merchant of Venice' because

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he would be the main villain in the play but this would be rather
risky for Shakespeare as the play-write because the Queen had to
approve it to make sure it wasn't too prejudice.

Venice was a wealthy and desirable place to live and many different
ethnic groups lived there, but the Venetians made sure that they were
recognised as superior to the rest of them. In sixteenth century
England Jews weren't very common and the ones who lived in England
were persecuted as in Venice because of their religion. In the years
around Shakespeare's life there were several public persecutions of
Jews and the anti-semetic feeling was strong among Christian England.

In act 1 scene 3, we see a conversation between Shylock and Bassanio.
From this conversation, we are quickly introduced to Shylock. We soon
find that he practices usury. This method of making a profit to a
contemporary audience would not have been viewed as a good thing, as
at the time, people disliked it because of the Bible's teachings. To a
modern audience, however, we can see that Shylock believes that it is
quite a proper act and that he feels that it is his duty to make a
profit and do well in a Christian populated society. He could also see
lending money for a profit as a way of defining himself as a Jew and
showing that he does have different beliefs and is not a Christian.

Also from act 1, scene 3, we see that Shylock is very suspect of
Christians. This is made clear to us when Bassanio invites him to dine
with him and Antonio. Shylock replies by saying that they would only
use the occasion as an opportunity to insult him by serving pork,
which as a Jew, he is not allowed to eat. In his aside, he says, "I
hate him for he is a Christian". Most of his words with Antonio and
Bassanio are again full of insults toward them and Christianity. This
shows that he is a very pre-judgmental person or it might reflect that
they all might of had problems in the past who instantly decides that
he hates Bassanio for his religion. He also says, "I will feed fat the
ancient grudge I bear him". From this sentence, we can already see
that Shylock is planning to use this situation at hand to his
advantage. It is clear to us as an audience that he knows that he may
get his revenge upon Antonio. In act 1, scene 3, we see Shylock as a
person who is very manipulative and cunning but later on in the scene,
Shakespeare starts to show us a different side of Shylock. He becomes
not simply an evil person, but more of a persecuted Jew that has
received insult after insult from the Christians. He says "For
sufferance is the badge of all our tribe". Lines like these change the
reader's feelings about Shylock. We can start to see him as a tortured
Jew and this makes us understand why he hates Christians so much. This
could be defined as Shylock being a victim of racial prejudice but he
also shows his own signs of prejudice towards Christians too.

The next exploration into Shylock's character is in act 2, scene 2.
After another quiet scene in Belmont, we return to a highly comical
scene in Venice. This is an example of how Shakespeare portrays
Shylock's personality through his actions. From his servant,
Launcelot, we hear how badly Shylock treats people in his service. We
hear a very one-sided argument from Launcelot that makes out that
Shylock is a slave driver and generally unpleasant to work for. An
example of this is when Launcelot says, "He is the very devil
incarnation".

This can again be interpreted in two different ways. If one had
already made up their mind that they disliked Shylock from what they
had previously seen in the play, it would be easy to use this as
further reason to dislike him. Having these people in his life could
also very well be a contributing factor to Shylock's hatred of
Christians. If a person like Launcelot were the only Christian that
Shylock saw on a regular basis, it could very well affect his feelings
for Christians.

One of the most important issues of the play in which we learn most
about Shylock is in his relationship with his daughter and how he
feels when she turns away from him forever.

Firstly, Shylock always brought up his daughter, Jessica, in a very
traditional, Jewish way. This was the main reason why she felt that
she had to get married in secret from him. This point could be
interpreted in either one of two ways. A contemporary audience would
see this as a selfish part of Shylock's character. It could be argued
that he is using his own daughter as a tool to show his hatred for
Christians and that he is trying to influence the people that she
wants to live with. This, therefore, shows a villainous side to
Shylock.

Perhaps the most obvious thing that makes Shylock seem a bad character
is that if his own daughter dislikes him to the extent that she does,
then he must be a poor father. This is clearly pointed out to us when
Jessica says, "Alack, what heinous sin is it in me, to be ashamed to
be my father's child"

Shylock shows again that he is a ruthless character. Shylock denies
himself an extreme amount of money in order to have his revenge upon
Antonio. Bassanio offers Shylock double the amount that Antonio
originally borrowed. He insists that, "If every ducat in six thousand
ducats were in six parts, and every part a ducat, I would not draw
them, I would have my bond". We see that he is more concerned about
obtaining his bond of a pound of flesh than receiving even more money
than is promised.

We also see a hint of barbarism within Shylock when he compares owning
the pound of flesh to a household item or a slave. He says, "The pound
of flesh which I demand of him is dearly brought, 'tis mine and I will
have it". He does not appear to see much difference between the pound
of flesh and Antonio's life. He obviously considers life more of a
material item.

Shylock seems to have been planning to kill Antonio right from the
very start of the play. In act one scene three where Shylock first
makes the deal with Antonio and Bassanio, It seems that Shylock may be
planning to use the situation to his advantage. This again is showing
that Shylock is a very cunning and sly person that will take advantage
of any situation. He says in that scene that he would forfeit a pound
of flesh in a very joking way but looking back on the scene after
reading the court scene, it is obvious that this was part of his plan
right from the very start.

Shakespeare shows us that Shylock will not let the chance of getting
his bond go. He feels that if he manipulates the judge then it might
be able to swing in his favour. He seems unable to compliment her
enough. He calls her "noble" and says, "O wise young judge, how I do
honour thee". Also, later he reverses these statements and is very
angry and upset when he realises that he can no longer kill Antonio.
This again emphasises Shylocks ruthless side and makes him seem even
more like a villain. During the trial Portia reveals that there is a
twist in the trial. Shylock is allowed his pound of flesh but not a
drop of blood, which would be inevitable.

She says `` 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. `` The bond that Shylock had created has completely ruined his
plans for revenge. The one thing that Shylock craves for more than
anything will now be taken from him if he decides to take his revenge.

The tables have now turned on Shylock because of the Venetian law his
possessions will be taken for trying to kill a Venetian. Antonio makes
two conditions for Shylocks life: firstly he must become a Christian
and he must also make a will saying that he will leave all his
possessions to Jessica and Lorenzo. Not only has Shylock been forced
to become a Christian, a religion which he despises, but also he has
lost everything that he owned.

Although at the end the punishment Shylock receives is very harsh, he
has no-one else to blame but his self. Because of his villainous and
ruthless attitude to money and his obsession with his bond he has
ended up without any possessions and he has also lost his daughter in
the process.


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