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Analysing Shylock's Dual-Role as Villain and Victim

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Analysing Shylock's Dual-Role as Villain and Victim Shakespeare presents Shylock as both a villain and a victim in 'The Merchant of Venice'. To what extent is this true? Shylock is shown as a villain because he has attempted to kill Antonio, he's abused Jessica's freedom and cares more about his money than his daughter. He is, however, presented as misunderstood and a victim, because not only is he physically abused in the text (he is spat on and kicked), his business is undermined, and he is an alien in his own city. A modern audience would not understand Shylock's personality as well as an Elizabethan audience, or at least as Shakespeare would have seen Shylock, because the racial tensions between Christians and Jews at Shakespeare's time have been mostly resolved, and because it was written for an Elizabethan, Christian audience. Consequently, it shows Christians in a forgiving light, in that their actions against Shylock, the Jew, are largely exonerated, both morally and in the courts. Jews in Elizabethan times were generally thought of as murderous, sometimes accused of poisoning wells and wiping out whole (Christian) ...read more.


Thomas Wilson wrote this about usuary in 1572, 'a sin directly against all law, against nature and against God. And what should this mean, that instead of charitable dealings and the sue of alms, hardness of heart hath now gotten place,' dismissing it as a livelihood based on greed. He also said that 'men have altogether forgotten true lending and given themselves wholly to live by foul gaining,' showing that he believed that lending could only be lending, not a way of gaining money from a friend. Christians and Jews have always been at odds with each other, because of the Christian belief that Jews crucified Jesus. There have been fights between Jews and Christians, and at one point, Jews were actually banned from England. Antonio is presented as a sensitive character, shown by his sadness, and also as a good, generous man, because he lends Bassanio money. With lending having been established in the audience's mind as associated with good, Shakespeare then presents the money lender, who profiteers from the established 'good'. Shylock is not a tolerant parent, when it comes to Jessica discovering new things. ...read more.


If he truly believed in the Jewish faith, he would have accepted death, rather than accept Christ. Added to this will be the explusion from the Jewish community, and all who could help him, and would understand his need to damage Antonio, yet also his non-acceptance into Christian society, as converts were regarded as social lepers. He resignedly says 'send the deed after me, I will sign it' and leaves. The Christians show no mercy when they have a Jew held in their sway, and the only Christian who shows mercy, ironically, is the one who first abused Shylock. Antonio saves Shylock from death, and gives Shylock the share of his money that was awarded to him, back. No character, is truly good/bad in Shakespeare. Antonio saves Shylock's life, refuses to take his possessions, and signs a potentially fatal bond with Shylock for his friend. However, he also racially abuses Shylock, tries his very best to ruin him, and forces him to convert from his religion, his most prized possession. Jessica robs her father, trades her dead mother's possessions for monkeys, and leaves no explanation. She's also sheltered from every part of life but her own. Next to the vast array of characters and motivations in Shakespeare, Shylock's murderous streak doesnt seem too bad. ...read more.

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