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Merchant of Venice- is he a victim or villain

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Introduction

"It seems as if Shakespeare was determined not to create a 'stage villain' who would always evoke a simple, hostile response. Shylock is a most complex and dominating character; he appears in only five scenes and yet for many people he is the centre of the play's interest." In the light of this quotation discuss Shakespeare's representation of the character and evaluate whether Shylock is entirely evil, a victim of persecution or a mixture of both. In the 'Merchant of Venice' it can be argued that Shylock, a Jewish moneylender, undergoes a metamorphosis from victim to villain. The character has a very controversial portrayal and some what vague. However, in this essay I hope to reach a conclusion to whether or not Shakespeare was determined to portray Shylock as a victim of persecution or a classical 'stage villain' who would evoke a simple and hostile response. During the course of this essay I will be considering the following aspects; the various staged productions and how through out the ages, societies interpreted Shylock's character and the recent film adaptations of the production. In relation to the quote, it does seem true to say that Shylock has a dominant and complex disposition. ...read more.

Middle

Antonio has realised Shylock will not listen to reason and has resigned himself to his fate: ' Let him alone: / I'll follow him no more with bootless prayer.' (Act III Scene iii) Shylock's resolve to destroy continues during Act IV in the trial scene. He refuses to show mercy when asked by Portia and the Duke: ' On what compulsion must I? Tell me that.' (Act IV Scene i) Of course legally he is right, it is not stated in the political law that he should be merciful but perhaps morally he is obliged to show mercy as Portia explains to him at some length. The way he ruthlessly pursues his revenge on Antonio shows him to be an extremely callous and ruthless man. However, having lost his case, he expects to be shown mercy by the Christians in having a portion of his wealth returned to him: ' You take my house when you do take the prop/ That doth sustain my house; you take my life/ when you do take the means whereby I live.' (Act IV Scene i) In this he shows himself to be arrogant in demanding mercy when he himself could render none. ...read more.

Conclusion

Although Shylock pursues his revenge fervently he still has the audience's sympathy because of the unfair and harsh punishment he receives. It strikes a modern day audience as grossly unfair that the severity of his punishment reflects not his crime, but his race. He is a victim of the Christians' intolerance of other races and ideas. In conclusion, I feel that ultimately Shylock is a villain. The way he treats those he is close to, for example his daughter Jessica exposes his vindictive and ultimately evil character. He lets his lust for vengeance engulf all other aspects of his life and his complete lack of mercy towards Antonio renders him a villain in the eyes of the audience. We can only guess at the way in which Shakespeare intended Shylock to be portrayed. I feel that Shakespeare intended Shylock to be victim, he was created to challenge the pre-conceptions and ideologies of the Elizabethan era. Having said this, I feel personally that it is not productive for us to simply categorise Shylock as either victim or villain. Through Shylock, Shakespeare explores the way in which the line between the oppressed and the oppressor can become blurred. 1 The English Review November 2007 from the article 'Shylock down the centuries' by Tony Martin. ?? ?? ?? ?? Aamna Khan 10G Mr. Warner English Literature Coursework ...read more.

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