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The Merchant of Venice Coursework Essay - Shylock; Victim or Villain

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'The Merchant of Venice' Coursework Essay Shylock; Victim or Villain On the first reading of Shakespeare's play, 'The Merchant of Venice', the character of Shylock the Jew seemed to me to be that of a villain. Because it is a play, an audience in Shakespeare's time may well have thought the same and, indeed, may have been expected to do so. The reason for this is that Elizabethan audiences expected to be shown stereotypes and it is down to the skill of the dramatist to keep them guessing. As the play unfolds, the character of Shylock develops so that he can also be seen, by more discerning audiences, as a victim. Exploring this contrast between the two views is something I find very interesting. Throughout that part of the play in which he features, Shylock gives us many opportunities to see different aspects of the character that Shakespeare portrays, as I intend to show. "Three thousand ducats." From Shylock's first words, Shakespeare shows him to be focussed on his job as a moneylender, which was one of the very few professions that Jewish men could have had in a Christian city. From the very beginning, an Elizabethan audience would have seen Shylock as a business man, driven by the unwavering desire for profit at the expense of the Christians whom he despises. When Bassanio comes to take out a loan in Antonio's name, Shylock shows immediately that he will grant it "I think I will take his bond." , but not for the reasons he gives to Bassanio. Although the Jew pretends friendship to the pair, "I would be friends with you, and have your love," he is all the while plotting some way of ridding himself of Antonio, who, besides being a Christian, is a personal enemy of Shylock, "How like a fawning publican he looks!" I hate him for he is a Christian." ...read more.


ha ha", and sometimes being very spiteful, "Your daughter spent in Genoa, as I heard, one night four score ducats." Which instantly depresses Shylock again, "Thou stick'st a dagger in me". This scene initially shows Shylock as victim, owing to Salarino and Solanio's taunts. This is emphasised by Tubal's snide comments, more surprisingly as he is also a Jew. However the villainous aspect of Shylock's character also emerges. His words reveal his deep hatred of Antonio and the reason for them, "I will have the heart of him if he forfeit, for were he out of Venice I can make what merchandise I will,". After it is found that all of Antonio's ships have been wrecked, taking with them the means to repay Shylock, Antonio is taken to a prison to await trial. By way of the jailor, Antonio has managed to arrange a meeting with Shylock in the street, in the hope of reasoning with him, "I pray thee hear me speak". Shylock of course is on the defensive, and as he believes that attack is the best form of defence, he is lashing out at any attempt of Antonio's to reason with him, "I will not hear thee speak" in order to hide the vulnerability that he is feeling inside. In Solanio's words, Shylock is an 'impenetrable cur' and will not be moved from his resolution to have his pound of flesh. "His reason well I know: I oft delivered from his forfeitures many that have at times made moan to me; therefore he hates me." This scene really sets out, the reasons why Shylock has such a hatred of Antonio. At this point, an Elizabethan audience would really see Antonio as 'the suffering martyr' and would support him for his goodness and his bravery coupled with dry humour in the face of death, "These griefs and losses have so baited me that I shall hardly spare a pound of flesh tomorrow to my bloody creditor." ...read more.


The difference between the views of a 16th century audience and a 21st century audience is that first and foremost, we in the 21st century have had the opportunity to read and study the script, whereas in Elizabethan times, the audience would have been swung first one way then the other as the plot unfolded. Nowadays we also have very different views on how to behave, for example, racial prejudice is recognized and controlled by law, unlike then, where it was acceptable for people to make racist comments. Portia herself openly says of Morocco "Let all of his complexion choose me so". From a 16th century audience's point of view, not much would actually be known about other races, therefore Shylock as an outsider, would be seen as more of a villain. Overall I think that Shakespeare intended Shylock to be seen as a villain, because he knew that that was what would please his audience, but he has written a complex character, that is bound to raise questions from the more thoughtful members of any audience, for instance, when Antonio sentences him to become a Christian, he knows that Shylock will no longer belong to the Jewish community, but will never be able to belong to the Christian community either - a 'paper' Christian. What is interesting is that those who compel him to conform, in this case Portia and Antonio, are as much 'paper' Christians as he is, for example, in her long speech, Portia talks at length of the quality of mercy, yet when she might have shown mercy to Shylock, she carried on, until she had taken from him all he held dear. In my opinion, I believe that it is impossible to separate 'victim' and 'villain' as they are not opposites. They overlap, and so I cannot define the character of Shylock as one or the other, as there is evidence of both, although I think that is what Shakespeare himself was thinking when he wrote the part. ?? ?? ?? ?? ...read more.

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