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Discuss Shakespeare's presentation of Shylock in the Merchant of Venice- villain or victim?

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Introduction

Discuss Shakespeare's presentation of Shylock in the Merchant of Venice- villain or victim? In the Merchant of Venice, Shylock is continually involved in the bond plot. This plot is probably the most intense story-line in this Shakespeare play. Bassanio borrows money from Shylock in Antonio's name in order to impress Portia, however after a tragic incident involving all of Antonio's ships crashing; the money has failed to be returned. According to their bargain Antonio must now give Shylock a pound of his flesh. Shakespeare uses Shylock is this play in order to provoke feelings of sympathy but also of hatred towards the villain in this play- the Jew. However you can't help but feel compassion for his situation as he is always going to be treated as a miscreant. Shylock is demonstrated as an Elizabethan caricature of a Jew and is therefore treated as one. He has a hatred of Christians and lends money out of interest (this is something that Elizabethans had unacceptable views on). Shylock in this play does suffer wrongs and has some valid points on Christian failings but he will always be seen as the rogue because of his constant greed and hatred towards Antonio- one of the most popular members of the play because of his generosity and affection. In Act 1 Scene 3 we meet Shylock for the first time, throughout the play there are times when we feel understanding for Shylock, however this is not one of them. ...read more.

Middle

Shylock's eloquence is powerful and in circumstances like this, very moving. He has an effective use of repetition and he stresses the common humanity of Jew and Gentile/Christian. He emphasis the message that both Jews and Christians often forget in the play. However Shylock soon turns to thoughts of revenge and not mercy as we expected. It is ironic that his words, which sounded like a plea for forgiveness, would suddenly go the opposite way; he wants revenge. All the sympathy that Shylock gained as a result of his impassioned speech quickly evaporates as they hear him rail against his daughter. His only concerns are for his wealth and, more foreboding, his revenge. By the end of the scene any empathy for Shylock is effectively negated by the spectacle of him being mischievously tortured by Tubal, showing him at his worst. Tubal comically goes from two extremes. He repetitively reports about one of Antonio's ships being sunk off the coast of Tripoli and that various of Antonio's creditors, who worry they will not be paid, but then he talks about Jessica spending his money and of selling a ring of sentimental value. Shylock goes from being suddenly overwhelmed with great happiness to being annoyed and parsimonious. Shylock's only concern throughout this scene is of himself. He elevates his suffering above that of all the Jews persecuted over the centuries. It's an identification with his race, but a very selfish one. ...read more.

Conclusion

He will use the other and on Shylock's death will forgive it to Lorenzo. Shylock is also forced to become a Christina, and given Shylock's well-known hatred of Jews this is appropriateness, if not mercy. The bloodthirsty and homicidal attitude of Shylock contrasts greatly to the love and friendship of many of the other characters, for example his daughter and Lorenzo. Shylock is a character that indeed suffers wrongs who has a valid point of view on Christian failing, but is in no way seen as admirable character. He is the central character of the play. There are several times when the audience feels sympathy for Shylock, for example when he makes his speech: 'If you prick us, do we not bleed?' However, essentially audience compassion is turned away from Shylock by his hatred of Antonio, to the extent of murder and the ruthless pursuit of profit. The Elizabethan audience would have seen him as a stereotypical monster of greed and in the nineteenth century there was a tradition of presenting him as a villain, followed by another tradition of Shylock as a noble victim. Shakespeare is, however, more balanced and subtle than any of these. Shakespeare uses situations to provoke feelings of condolence towards Shylock because he is the victim of Christian hate (which proves to be very non-Christian). Nevertheless Shylock will always be the villain of the play as he is in contrast to Antonio and surely no victim would seek death of any fellow human being or care only for his money and not his daughter. Shirley Hunter 10H ...read more.

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