• Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

In 'The Merchant of Venice' in Act 1 Scene 3, Shylock is described as being 'the devil' by Antonio. To what extent do you agree that he is the villain in the play?

Extracts from this document...


In 'The Merchant of Venice' in Act 1 Scene 3, Shylock is described as being 'the devil' by Antonio. To what extent do you agree that he is the villain in the play? Shylock's character in Shakespeare's 'The Merchant of Venice' has long been a controversial subject- more so now than it was when the play was written in the late 16th Century. First performed in 1605, it seemingly conforms to the anti-semitic stereotypes towards Jews and their conduct but, unlike Shakespeare's rival's work ('The Jew of Malta) by Christopher Marlowe, the main Jewish character is attributed not only the negative traits associated with Jews at the time, but also a side that sees to show humanity. Therefore, in this essay, it is my aim to explore whether calling Shylock the villain in the play is justified or not based on his actions and those of the characters surrounding him (to see if there is evidence of provocation), and placing this into the context of Elizabethan England and thus coming to conclusions abut whether views towards the extent of his villainy have remained the same. The one single action in the play which seems most convictive of Shylock is his argument with argument over the lending of 3,000 ducats-and the penalty fixed in case of its late return in Act 3 scene 1. The very notion of imposing such a brutal penalty seems to us shocking in its severity and absurdity, but, of course, Shylock's reasons for setting it must also be taken into account. It can also be argued that it was Antonio's right to refuse it, and so Shylock's wish to fulfil the terms of the contract cannot be classed as murder. Antonio agreed to it, and he was fully aware of the implications. Antonio asks of Shylock the loan of 3,000 ducats. Shylock is a moneylender by profession, and this is a fact that would have been significant to an Elizabethan audience watching the play, as Shylock charges interest on his loans, something that they would have undoubtedly despised but which we see no wrong in today. ...read more.


There are no reasons to suggest, both from this play, any other of Shakespeare's plays or historical evidence that Shakespeare was not a man oh his time, and therefore a strict Christian. In fact, it is clear from some of his other plays that Christianity and a natural order of things was considered by him essential for a person to lead a stable, good life (such as in Macbeth) and therefore, calling Shylock 'the devil' would suggest that Shakespeare was not altogether sympathetic towards Shylock's character. It is also possible, however, to debate that this was done to make the play more appealing to his audience, for, after all, he relied on the income they produced. But it is clear that this is not merely a passing comment- for in Act 2 scene 2, Launcelot repeatedly, in his soliloquy, calls him the devil- 'I should stay with the Jew my master, who- God bless the mark- is a kind of devil; and to run away from the Jew I should be ruled by the fiend, who- saving you reverence- is the devil himself. Certainly the Jew is the devil incarnation...' The implications of calling Shylock the devil are severe- it implies that Shylock is the anti-Christ, a heathen, and therefore goes against all of Christianity, until he becomes a representation of 'evil'. It also implies that Shylock, as that devil, is there to lead the Christian characters in the play astray, and it is interesting to note that the first time that Shylock is described as being 'the devil' by Antonio is whilst they are discussing the issues surrounding the bond. Therefore the debate as to whether Shylock, as the devil, is leading Antonio (the exemplary Christian) astray arises. However, there is another occasion where the term 'devil' is applied to another character in the play, but under altogether different circumstances. In Act 2 scene 3, Jessica describes Launcelot as 'a merry devil'. ...read more.


However, we cannot ignore the powerfully emotive speech which Shylock is allowed by Shakespeare in Act 3 scene 1. If Shylock was only intended to be a simple villain, it would seem pointless to plead his humanity, to try to show the similarities between Jews and Christians- their underlying humanity. It would have seemed more appropriate to make Shylock more like Christopher Marlowe's Jewish character Barrabas- violent, cunning, cruel and, ultimately, two-dimensional. Instead we are presented with a 'villain' who has been persecuted his entire life by those who are given authority to judge him, who seems resigned- 'Still I have borne it with a patient shrug For sufferance is the badge of all our tribe' (Act 1 scene 3) -and who has been provoked throughout. His one act of violence, of blood lust, arises from the fact that, for the first time, he holds power over those who torment him, his hatred is fuelled by a lifetime of humiliation, and his lack of mercy not only by this but by the events that occurred between the agreement of the bond and the trial. We can only assume that Shakespeare intended to make the play appealing to his first audiences, those he would have received money from, and therefore I am perhaps not judging Shylock as Shakespeare intended his audiences to, and that I am 'prejudiced' by my modern perspective which has not made me anti-semitic. However, as the essay question asks for my interpretation of Shylock as a character as opposed to an Elizabethan audience's, it is my conclusion that we cannot blame Shylock entirely for his actions without blaming his persecutors for their part in provoking Shylock to act as he did, and the evidence showing that Shylock has not only a villainous side but a more human one; capable of expressing complex humane emotions, leads me to believe that we cannot reduce Shylock's character to that of 'villain', although of the characters in the play his is certainly the most negatively portrayed. 1 ...read more.

The above preview is unformatted text

This student written piece of work is one of many that can be found in our GCSE The Merchant of Venice section.

Found what you're looking for?

  • Start learning 29% faster today
  • 150,000+ documents available
  • Just £6.99 a month

Not the one? Search for your essay title...
  • Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

See related essaysSee related essays

Related GCSE The Merchant of Venice essays

  1. Merchant of Venice - Comparing and Contrasting Antonio and Shylock

    He will not let this happen. He wants justice. Shylock wants to take his revenge this evident in the quote, "If you prick us do we not bleed? If you tickle us do we not laugh? If you poison us do we not die?

  2. Imagine you're Antonio, write a diary form essay on what has happened, record the ...

    My life is complete for Bassanio showed his true love for me today by giving the lawyer the ring he promised to Portia, to wear forever as a sign of their love. He gave it up in payment for saving my hopeless life and so with my life I honour my friends gesture to this day.

  1. Shylock - Victim or Villain - What is your assessment of the presentation of ...

    The way the Christians have been forced to come to him when they need help would surely please Shylock. Although Shylock has been portrayed vastly as a villain, the incidents before his daughter runs away means another side of the story can be seen.

  2. Merchant of Venice essay

    unless the devil himself turn Jew", perhaps another reference to society at his time from Shakespeare that shows the Jew's argument being ignored. The court scene is the most important part of the plot in which Shylock shows an immense urge to see his bond through.

  1. Act 4 Scene 1 is the dramatic climax to the play. Analyse how Shakespeare ...

    'The Jew shall have all the justice; soft! No haste: he shall have anything but the penalty.' He can have his flesh but nothing else and if he does he dies and again his goods will be confiscated. Gratiano still out bursting with words of Shylocks. So Shylock then decides he'll just have the original price, Bassanio has

  2. The merchant of venice, Modern audiences probably find it difficult to accept Shylock as ...

    Finally, in 1290 King Edward banished all Jews from England. The exile of Jews lasted until 1655, when a Jewish scholar obtained Oliver Cromwell's assent for Jews to return to London. Jews had initially come to England following the Battle of Hastings and the Norman conquest of 1066.

  1. Describe the characters and relationships in act 1 scene 3 of

    It could also mean that their paths have crossed before. 'I understand upon the Rialto' could be the Elizabethan equivalent of 'I heard on the grapevine' which suggests that Shylock keeps his ears open and listens to idle chatter and rumour in case it proves to be useful.

  2. Direct Act 4 Scene 1 of Shakespeare's - 'The Merchant of Venice'

    may as well use question with the wolf Why he hath made the ewe bleat for the lamb; You may as well forbid the mountain pines To wag their high tops and to make no noise When they are fretten with the gusts of heaven; You may as well do

  • Over 160,000 pieces
    of student written work
  • Annotated by
    experienced teachers
  • Ideas and feedback to
    improve your own work