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'In The Merchant Of Venice, Does William Shakespeare Portray Shylock as a Victim or a Villain?'

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Introduction

Navdeep Sahota Friday, 13 June 2005 English Coursework 'In The Merchant Of Venice, Does William Shakespeare Portray Shylock as a Victim or a Villain?' The Merchant Of Venice is the story of Antonio, a merchant, borrowing money from Shylock, a Jewish moneylender, in order to fund his best friend Bassanio's romantic ambitions. Like the majority of the habitants of Venice, Antonio is Christian. At the time of the play, the sixteenth century, there was a huge abhorrence against those who were not Christian. As Antonio needed money quickly he had no alternative to borrowing from Shylock; Jewish moneylenders made profit from charging interests. Christians were resentful towards Jews as they were very successful with their businesses. Christians were prejudice because they didn't want Jews to become wealthier in a Christian country. Therefore Jews had to live in enclosed and segregated areas called ghettos. This shows Shylock being victimised in the play, as all Jews were back in the sixteenth century Shylock first takes to the stage in Act I Scene iii. This scene shows Bassanio seeking Shylock in order for him to ask to borrow money in the name of Antonio. ...read more.

Middle

Shylock and Leah had a daughter, Jessica, who lives with Shylock at the beginning of the play. She doesn't like or respect her father, however. She tells others "our house is hell". It seems that like Lancelot she feels that her father has somewhat of a resemblance to the devil. Jessica falls in love with a Christian and decides to elope with him. This brings great shame on Shylock as she has betrayed him and not married a Jewish boy. Jessica shows nothing but odium to Shylock saying "But though I am a daughter to his blood, I am not to his manners". She thinks her father is sinful and his actions are immoral. When Jessica is eloping she gives instructions to Lancelot to help her escape without Shylock's knowledge or intervention. Lancelot tells us she has taken "gold and jewels". These are Shylock's possessions, which she has stolen from him. Among the jewellery taken is the ring Leah gave Shylock. William Shakespeare made a very interesting decision by omitting the scene in which Shylock discovers that Jessica has left along with a vast amount of his wealth. ...read more.

Conclusion

Shylock is being victimised by the people of the courts here. Antonio shows mercy towards Shylock and lets him keep half of his wealth and giving the rest to Jessica, providing he becomes a Jew. This is by no means mercy as Antonio knows how much worse this is for Shylock compared with being poor. Shylock is forced to agree but is far from content with the outcome of the trial. In conclusion, Shylock is definitely intended to be William Shakespeare's villain. He is a vengeful character whose is vindictive towards everyone else, in particular Antonio and Jessica, his own daughter. However, Shylock is victimised by many unfairly. This is mainly due to the fact that he is a Jew. Shylock possesses many stereotypical characteristics for a villain, such as being evil and vengeful but unlike most villains he does not step outside the law. The only reason he wants to kill Antonio is because he could legally. Through Shylock, Shakespeare explores the way in which the line between the oppressed and the oppressor can become blurred. It seems to me that when Shylock is villainous when becomes victimised; when Shylock is shown as a victim it results in him becoming villainous. ...read more.

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