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Is Shylock a Victim or a Villain?

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Introduction

Shylock: Victim or Villain? With close reference to at least three scenes examine Shakespeare's presentation of Shylock. Is a villain someone who lends money to help others but then charges interest? Intending to receive a pound of human flesh resulting in certain death if a promise is broken, surely this is somebody who is viewed as a villain. The same man who has experienced prejudice and discrimination all his life only because of his religion, which would be unimaginable in modern day, has this man now turned into a victim? Shakespeare a play writer of the 16th century, so much more creative, sophisticated and knowledgeable then the Elizabethan audience he wrote this play for whom would have perceived Shylock as a Jew a villain, presents Shylock in a more complex way. Jews were thought of by Christians as stubborn non-believers and were accused of poisoning wells and spreading the plague. Shylock was shown to be treated as all these things were true, yet he had a complexity about him as an audience today, against discrimination and accepting other religion and cultures, would feel pity, sympathy and put him towards the victim category. However trying to murder someone for revenge, this is clear villainy to anybody now or thousands of years ago. Throughout the play we ask ourselves, is Shylock a villain or a victim? Shakespeare intends this as he gives Shylock emotive speeches about inequality, which contradicts Shylock as being a villain. Shylock as a character represents the Old Testament, Judaism, which is the belief of justice, retribution and following the law by the letter. Shakespeare gives a clear message about Justice against Antonio for all that he has done towards Shylock; he wants to get his revenge within the law hence the bond. Shylock talks about the Old Testament with Bassanio and Antonio in Act 1: Scene 3, "This Jacob from our Holy Abram." ...read more.

Middle

This is one of Shakespeare's most famous speeches but why does he give it too Shylock, the villain of the play in the Elizabethan audience's eyes? It gives him a different dimension and makes him seem more human. He stands up for himself and is not as in control or as noble as he was previously. He lets his emotions out many of the ideas used have been taken straight from the teachings of the Christian church. He is using the Christian's own arguments against them. Shakespeare illustrates Shylock as being intelligent and is no longer a stereotypical villain; he has true, strong feelings that cannot be argued against by anyone. In this scene we also learn the scale of Jessica's betrayal when she gambled his ring that he had given to Leah when he was a Bachelor for a monkey: " One of them showed me a ring that he had of your daughter for a monkey." A pit in his stomach is what he would have felt yet it was quickly filled with the thought of Antonio's misfortune and finally having a chance to take revenge against Antonio within the law. When talking to Tubal about Antonio's sunken ships he uses a lot of repetition that could mean he has other things on his mind such as how and when he is going to take this inevitable revenge: "I thank God, I thank God...Is it true? Is it true?" Act 3: Scene 1 is one of the most important in the play but also has the most unusual layout. The scene follows the layout of the whole play and also Shylocks emotions. It starts calm, Bassanio trying to take Portia's hand in marriage, Shylock is doing his job and Salerio and Salanio are just gossiping. It then advances to irritation ad revenge. Shylock decides to take his revenge and in the ring plot Portia and her maid trick both their husbands. ...read more.

Conclusion

Shakespeare plays to this when he gives Shylock a menacing turn. He tells us how Shylock hates Antonio: "I hate him for he is a Christian." But then, in contrast, Shakespeare shows us that in fact, Shylock wants to be Antonio's friend: "I would be friends with you and have you love." Has this been done on purpose? Or has Shakespeare done this too confuse the audience and portray him as a vitim with potential to become a villain? There are no rules to whether Shylock is a victim or a villain, only interpretations. Shakespeare has given Shylock a complex character with mixed emotions that many producers and directors have interpreted for their purposes. In the film version, with Albaccino, Shylock was portrayed as a vulnerable victim who was easily sympathised with. With such an intelligant, crafty play writer who included deeper meanings, no-one will ever truly know if Shakespeare intended Shylock to be a victim or a villian. Maybe this was his intention, you decide whether you sympathise with him because all he has been through or you may think he is a man that has crossed a line with bad intentions. People to this day have acted because of the way they have been treated or how they have been bought up. Remember, Is a villain someone who lends money to help others but then charges interest? Intending to receive a pound of human flesh resulting in certain death if a promise is broken, surely this is somebody who is viewed as a villain. The same man who has experienced prejudice and discrimination all his life only because of his religion, which would be unimaginable in modern day, has this man now turned into a victim? Shakespeare fills your mind with suspicions, theories and questions but only your emotions and thoughts can decide whether Shylock was a victim or a villain. Or maybe he was neither. Lily Chubb Shylock: Victim or Villain? Page 1 of 7 ...read more.

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