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Explore the conflicting responses, which the character of Shylock provokes in the audience. How does Shakespeare achieve this effect? Do you think Shylock is a victim or a villain?

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Explore the conflicting responses, which the character of Shylock provokes in the audience. How does Shakespeare achieve this effect? Do you think Shylock is a victim or a villain? Written sometime between 1596 and 1598, The Merchant of Venice is classified as both an early Shakespearean comedy and as a problem play; it is a work in which good triumphs over evil, but serious themes are examined and some issues remain unresolved. In the play, Shakespeare wove together two classic folk tales, one involving a vengeful, greedy creditor trying to take a pound of flesh, the other involving a fight for the hand of a rich princess with a correct choice among three chests and thereby winning his companion. Shakespeare's writing of the first tale centres on the Jewish moneylender Shylock who seeks a literal pound of flesh from his Christian opponent, the generous, faithful Antonio. In Shakespeare's A Merchant of Venice, the character Shylock provokes conflicting responses in the audience. Throughout the play, Shylock is portrayed as being a greedy, malicious and bitter man, who is hated for his religion and his money lending. However, the audience is still able to recognise an injustice in the way he is treated. Shylock is shunned from society, principally because of his Jewish background. Therefore, the audience have conflicting feelings towards the character. Shakespeare achieves this effect through varying language techniques and dramatic devices. In this essay I will be looking at the different perceptions of Shylock and how Shakespeare controls them in order to answer the question; is Shylock a victim or a villain? The audience's perceptions of Shylock vary dramatically throughout the play. For example, Shakespeare portrays Shylock as being racist, selfish, profane and without integrity in Act 1 Scene 3, during Shylock's aside. Shylock tells the audience: 'I hate him for he is a Christian'. This quote shows Shylock as being racist. ...read more.


After both sides have stated their cases, the argument becomes more frantic with the characters remaining stubborn and continuing their argument in short bursts. For example, Bassanio argues with Shylock, suggesting that Shylock is inhumane with rhetorical questions, such as: 'Do all men kill the things they do not love?' It is short and well-timed phrases or questionings such as these, which continue throughout the scene, making it difficult for the audience to conclude as to whether Shylock is a victim or a villain. As an alternative interpretation, these rhetorical questions and short, snappy accusations, which Shylock has no chance to dismiss, may reflect the trial itself. The trial is certainly less than fair, and the pressure that the defending characters put on Shylock is also unnecessary. This is similar to the way Shylock is unable to defend himself from the threats and accusations sent his way. Overall, the structure of the scene makes it very hard for the audience to conclude as to whether Shylock is a victim or a villain. This is due to the opposing arguments being put forward in turn by each member of the scene, thus creating an uncertainty as to who is in the right, or wrong. These arguments are both equally convincing. However, overall, Shylock is made to be seem villainous by the structure of the scene as he is forced to remain stubborn and repel the opposition time after time as their case is argued often and in short and some long bursts, rather than Shylock denying their pleaful requests once only. Shakespeare has structured the scene this way in order for the audience to be unsure of who is in the right. The audience members will be able to identify with both sides of the argument, therefore they will want to follow the play further as the suspense is maintained as to who will prevail, and ultimately who will be the victim, and who will be the villain. ...read more.


In conclusion, there are many conflicting responses, which the character of Shylock provokes in the audience. For example, Shylock is often seen as evil, greedy, belligerent, malicious, bloodthirsty, hypocritical, unforgiving, materialistic, bitter and immoral man who is revengeful and persistent. However, Shylock is often seen as misunderstood, unfortunate, and a victim of racial discrimination due to his religion as the audience can understand that the character is not always worthy of his ill treatment. Shakespeare achieves this effect through many devices. Primarily, Shakespeare uses structure to promote these conflicting responses, by putting them in sequence in the play, thus forcing the audience to constantly reassess their view of the character, as it is ambiguous whether he is wrong, or wronged. Shakespeare also uses figurative language techniques in the play, such as metaphor and repetition in order to reinforce a theme. Several dramatic techniques are used in The Merchant of Venice, such as asides and soliloquy's, which add emphasis to a section in the play. This coupled with Shakespeare's traditionally fantastic use of vocabulary and metaphor make the play extraordinary. I very much enjoyed the play, particularly the question as to whether Shylock is a villain or whether he is just a victim who is misunderstood by all. I also enjoyed the fantastic vocabulary that is expected of Shakespeare and the very clever stage directions, which keep the audience enthralled and unable to decide whether Shylock is a victim or a villain. Overall, I would suggest that Shakespeare designs Shylock to be a villain, whilst highlighting the circumstances he has had to endure. This will show the audience that while the character himself is in the wrong, the Jewish community is certainly not. The play has a serious underlying theme, which is the battle for equality for all which still fights on today. However, in my opinion, whilst understanding the horrific prejudices Shylock has had to endure I believe that the character +is a villain, simply because he was willing to take another mans life, and would have be it not for a technicality. ...read more.

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