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Examine how Shylock is presented in The Merchant of Venice.

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Introduction

Amna Abdelrahim October 2005 Examine how Shylock is presented in The Merchant of Venice. Shakespeare's play The Merchant of Venice, one of his romantic comedies, was written in 1596. It deals with a dispute between Shylock, a wealthy Jewish moneylender, and Antonio, a Venetian citizen. The play begins in Venice, where Antonia's friend, Bassanio, needs a loan of 3,000 ducats so that he can court a wealthy heiress named Portia. Not being able to raise the funds himself, Bassanio asks Antonio for a loan. Unfortunately Antonio's wealth is invested in merchant ships that are presently at sea. Despite his wealth being tied up at sea, Antonio agrees to ask for a short term loan of the money from Shylock, a Jewish usurer. Shylock has a deep seated hate of Antonio because of the insulting treatment that Antonio has shown Shylock in the past. Although he is reluctant at first, Shylock agrees to lend the money on the basis that if the 3,000 ducats are not repaid within three months, Shylock will take a pound of Antonio's flesh. Despite the harsh terms, Antonio agrees to the contract, confident that his ships, and his wealth, will return before the date of repayment. Just before the wedding of Bassanio and Portia, Shylock discovers to his horror that Jessica, his only daughter, has eloped with a Christian, taking a great deal of his wealth with her. Jessica's husband is Lorenzo, a friend of Bassanio and Antonio; Lorenzo shares their antipathy to Shylock. While his friends are happy in their new marriages, Antonio is worried because he learns that two of his ships have been lost at sea. With the repayment date looming, Shylock is asking for his pound of flesh. Portia disguises herself as a lawyer and defends Antonio, successfully arguing that Shylock may have his pound of flesh as long as he draws no blood, as there was no mention of blood in the original agreement. ...read more.

Middle

Sometimes Shylock is not even given a human name and is simply called "dog". He is being compared to an animal, and by doing this Shylock loses his dignity as a human being and is portrayed as a victim. The Christians in the play however are always referred to as "the Christian" or by their name. This gives the impression that the Christians are better than everyone else.The trial scene at the end of the play also shows this.Shylock has dared to try and shed a drop of Christian blood, and he is severely punished for this, with the loss of his religion, wealth and dignity.Although being a Jew was probably enough to portray Shylock as a villain, Shakespeare has also turned Shylock into a money lender.This profession was hated by many people as the Jews charged interest. His profession is extremely important to Shylock and money is usually at the top of his priorities. Shylock's reasons for agreeing to the bond with Antonio become apparent in Act 1, Scene 3. ''I hate him for he is a Christian: But more for that in low simplicity He lends out money gratis.'' We can see from this that although Shylock hates Antonio because he is a Christian, it is more professional jealousy that drives Shylock to agree to the terms. Shylock knows that with Antonio gone his business will increase. In this scene the audience perhaps hates Shylock more because he is only interested in his wealth than because he is a Jew, and Shakespeare has portrayed him as a regular villain instead of a Jewish villain.The audience again sees the importance of Shylock's wealth when his daughter elopes with most of his riches. ''My daughter! O my ducats! O my daughter! Fled with a Christian! O my Christian ducats!'' The use of Sheakespere's language can change the way we look at Shylock. Although Shylock's thoughts are of his daughter he seems more upset about the fact that his wealth has gone. ...read more.

Conclusion

When Jessica runs away Shylock doesn't think about her reasons for running away. He is more interested in his material possessions. There is a lot of hate by both Shylock and the Christians during the course of the play. The different religions seem to have less to do with it than professional jealousy. After carefully considering all the facts I personally feel shylock is indeed a victim not a villain. Although he feels hate towards the Christians, as he himself is persecuted in the play because of his religious status. Jews are the minority in Venice and Shylock faces daily struggles just to remain a successful business man, which is quite saddening. Shylock is such a complicated character to examine; he has many dimensions to explore. Unlike the other characters in the play he is three dimensional, and one cannot say he is greedy or mean because on the contrary Shakespeare portrays him as very human. I believe today's audience will see shylock through different eyes. I think of him as a 'real' person whose words and deeds are motivated by thoughts and feelings that we can discover from the play, and that we can understand when we have discovered them. We cannot think of Bassanio in this way. Yet in admiring Shakespeare's achievement in the creation of Shylock, we must beware of danger. Often when we know a person well and understand why he acts as he does we become sympathetic towards him. In the merchant of Venice we are further encouraged to sympathise with shylock also by the fact that other leading characters such as Bassanio do not compel our sympathies. Sympathy can give rise to affection and affection often temps to withhold moral judgement or at least be gentle in our censure. Shylock's conduct merits condemnation. We can only refrain from condemning it because we know he has suffered from being a Jew and this surely is another form of prejudice? ?? ?? ?? ?? ...read more.

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