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Shylock: Victim or Villain? A Merchant of Venice.

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Introduction

Shylock: Victim or Villain? There are several perspectives to the character of Shylock in "A Merchant of Venice." Most of these are deliberately planted in the script by Shakespeare to provoke a negative or positive response from the audience. The author deliberately casts different lights on him throughout the play; sometimes he is the persecuted, sympathy provoking outcast of society; sometimes a cruel, calculating fiend. The background in which the play is set, the Elizabethan era, was in principal a Christian one. However, racial prejudice thrived against most non-Christians, particularly against the Jewish people. Anti-Semitism was socially accepted, mainly because of the bad image of the Jews that had slowly been built up by, and amongst, the Christians. Indeed it did actually get to the point at one stage where keeping a Jewish identity was actually illegal in Elizabethan England. Jews could were not allowed to practise Judaism or profess to be of any Jewish origin. There was a stereotypical pre-judgement of Jews to be moneylenders that led to an all round dislike, and sometimes hate of them. At the time, Shylock would have fallen socially into the lowest of categories, a common thief. ...read more.

Middle

He has spat on him for being a Jew, and has kicked him "As you would spurn a stranger cur over your threshold." On line 130, Antonio responds to these accusations, not by denying them, but by threatening that they are likely to happen again. This shows his utter contempt for Shylock's side of events and confidence in his own social status. It is not only Antonio who abuses Shylock, but also Gratiano, who makes several extremely hostile remarks towards him throughout the play. He likens Shylock to something inhuman several times, as do many of the other "good" Christians Shylock reduced to the social status of an animal with; "Oh be thou damned inexecrable dog!" (Act 4 Scene 1, Line 129); "Currish spirit govern'd a wolf" (Act 4 Scene line 133) and; "(Shylocks) desires are wolvish, bloody, starved and ravenous." Shylock is not only likened to an animal, but is also demonised in several instances. He is identified around six times in the play to the likeness of the devil. Only three times in the play is Shylock called by his name, each of those times in the official courtroom. ...read more.

Conclusion

He has Antonio apparently trapped under the law and can not only get rid of a business rival, but can do so with the help of justice. Nothing can go wrong as he delightedly prepares to take a pound of flesh from Antonio's body, preparing his scales and "whetting his knife." This scene shows him as an exaggerated monster with a lust for blood and money, relishing any chance of taking flesh from Antonio. He rejects the large amounts of money offered by Bassanio, showing all he wishes is Antonio's life. In Act 3 scene 2, Jessica declares; "I have heard him swear to Tubal and Chus, his countrymen, that he would rather have Antonio's flesh than twenty times the value of the sum that he did owe him..." When the crunch for Shylock comes, one can only feel relieved for Antonio's sake. However, when the punishment is in fact turned back on Shylock in increasing degrees of harshness it is impossible not to feel sorry for him. Because he has plotted against a Venetian he must now convert to Christianity, give up all his possessions and give anything he has when he dies to Jessica and Lorenzo. For Shylock, this is a feat worse than death. Iain Watts Christian Fellowship School Centre no 34244 Candidate 2422 ...read more.

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