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Merchant of Venice - Is Shylock presented as a victim or a villain by Shakespeare?

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Introduction

Merchant of Venice Is Shylock presented as a victim or a villain by Shakespeare? A villain is a character in a story or play whose evil actions or motives are important in the plot. A victim is a person who is tricked, swindled or made to suffer. Shakespeare presents both of these aspects of Shylock's complex personality by revealing his feelings in his actions and words. Even some of his more simple speeches have deep, subtle meanings. My first instinct would be to say that Shylock is presented as a villain by Shakespeare because of his most prominent scene in the play - the court scene, Act 4 Scene 1, but when you look more closely it is obvious that Shakespeare presents a weaker, more vulnerable side of Shylock. The way in which Shylock is portrayed has changed considerably since the play was first performed, when he was made out to be a villain. This has now changed and Shylock is often portrayed as an intelligent man who has been victimised. Certainly, Shakespeare did not write Shylock as a simple, one-dimensional part. He is one of the most complex characters in the play. Most of Shakespeare's audience in the Tudor times would have automatically adopted the view that Shylock was a villain because of the great amount of anti-Semitism at the time. ...read more.

Middle

He knows that Jessica and Launcelot Gobbo are planning something but he is helpless. At the end of the court scene, Act 4 Scene 1, Shylock is deliberately victimised. Shakespeare shows him break down because of Antonio's spite. Shylock's wealth has been taken away from him and it is obvious that he is in a bad mental state but Antonio proceeds to take away his dignity. "Two things provided more: that for his favour He presently become a Christian; The other, that he do record a gift, Here in the court, of all he dies possessed Unto his son Lorenzo and his daughter." (Line 384-387) This is taking away the two things that Shylock has left, his dignity and his religion. Antonio purposely taunts him with the fact that Jessica has run away and then heartlessly strips him of his faith. Shakespeare presents Shylock here as if he is too weak to protest. "I pray you give me leave to go from hence; I am not well; send the deed after me, And I will sign it." (Line 392-394) The court scene shows different aspects of Shylock's character. Shakespeare shows him as a victim at the end of the scene but at the beginning of the scene he is depicted as a villain. Shylock is offered twice the original amount of money but still refuses to accept the offer. ...read more.

Conclusion

heard in Genoa!" (Line 99-100) Anti-Semitism is one of the main themes in the Merchant Of Venice and Shakespeare shows that it as an important part of the plot of the play. However, this is not the only religious hatred suffered. In Act 1 Scene 3 when Antonio enters Shylock's first words to him are cruel and vindictive. "How like a fawning publican he looks! I hate him for he is Christian." (Line 38-39) Shylock's hatred of Antonio is based on his religion. Shylock could therefore be called a hypocrite as he tells people not to judge him because he is a Jew. This action immediately arouses anger in the situation and affects the plot. Shylock can see that he is in control of the situation and so he can be as malicious as he wants. He starts to thrive in his power and uses the fact that Antonio wants to borrow money as an excuse to be callous. The scenes in the Merchant Of Venice that portray Shylock as a villain are much more prominent and dramatic than the scenes that present Shylock as a victim. This may be why my first instinct was to say that Shylock was a villain. After looking more closely at the play, I can conclude that Shakespeare presents him as a villain but audiences of today see him as a victim. Audiences in Shakespeare's time may have missed subtle things that Shakespeare wrote which could abbreviate Shylock as a victim. -1- ...read more.

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