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Shylock: Victim or Villain

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Introduction

Shylock: Victim or Villain? 'The Merchant of Venice' is a play written by William Shakespeare between 1594-1597, it is said to be his most suspenseful comedy. It's rumoured that sources of inspiration for this play are a story called 'The Simpleton by Giovanni Fiorentino and Christopher Marlowe's play, 'The Jew of Malta' in 1589. Although, 'The Merchant of Venice' was written during Elizabeth Is reign as Queen, there is no evidence it was performed until the reign of James I, when it was performed in 1604 and 1605. The play shows that, 'Life and love can only by risking their loss.' The main features of the plot are as follows: The Bond, Shylock wanting a pound of Antonio's flesh; The Caskets, Bassanio winning his love, Portia; The Elopement, Jessica becoming Christian, as she is in love with Lorenzo; The Rings, A test of Bassanio and Gratiano's love. The storyline which I will be following for this essay is The Bond. I've chosen this aspect, because it features Shylock, a wizened, old, Jewish, money lender who is persecuted for his faith. I hope to discover whether Shylock is a Victim or a Villain. The bond is a contract between Antonio and Shylock stating that if Antonio does not return 3,000 ducats, which he has borrowed, to Shylock in three months as agreed then, 'Let the forfeit be nominated for an equal pound of [Antonio's] fair flesh, to be cut off and taken in what part of your body pleaseth [Shylock].' ...read more.

Middle

He hates Antonio because as Shylock says to him, 'You call me misbeliever, cut-throat dog, and spit upon my Jewish gabardine.' To fuel Shylock's determination and achieve the outcome of his bond, Jessica, his daughter, runs away and steals his money. She does this to become a Christian, as she is in love with Lorenzo, 'Farewell, and if my fortune be not crossed, I have a father, you a daughter, lost.' However, the outcome of the trial is not in his Shylock's favour. He is offered six thousand ducats, twice that which he has lent, but he refuses this offer in favour of his bond, 'If every ducat in six thousand ducats were in six parts, and every part a ducat, I would not draw them; I would have my bond.' Portia, disguised as 'Doctor Balthazar', reveals, 'If it be proved against an alien that by direct or indirect attempts he seek the life of any citizen, the party 'gainst the which he doth contrive shall seize one half his goods, the other half comes to the privy coffer of the state, and the offender's life lies in the mercy of the Duke only, 'gainst all other voice.' Throughout history, Jews have been criticised and ridiculed. The earliest Jews to settle in England came over with the Norman's in 1060's. In 1189 a fledgling community fell victim to the first of London's anti-Semitic pogroms (organised persecution and massacre, especially of Jews), Thirty Jews were killed. ...read more.

Conclusion

O my ducats! O my daughter! Fled with a Christian! O my Christian ducats! Justice! The law! My ducats and my daughter! A sealed bag, two sealed bags of ducats, of double ducats, stolen from me by my daughter!' Also, he is evidently the stock Jewish character of the Elizabethan era; anti-Semitism was rife in Shakespeare's London. Audiences, primed to view Shylock as a natural-born villain, would have been surprised to find any of his speeches particularly moving. Evidence that Shylock might be considered a victim, is demonstrated below: Shylock is a victim of the society around him, as a Jew in the Elizabethan times, the Christians hate him, Antonio, Bassanio, Portia and the Duke. We see this in Act 4, Scene 1, as the Duke refers to Shylock indirectly as 'The Jew', 'Go one and call the Jew into the court.' Shylock is a religious, clean-living family man who merely wants to conduct his business. As Shylock is a Jew, his main means of business and income to support both his daughter, Jessica, and himself is money usury, lending out money at high interest rates, which is how the bond is initially created. We also see that Shylock is not a villain but was driven to revenge on Antonio because of petty discrimination and persecution. His determination was spurred on by the loss of his only family, daughter Jessica. ...read more.

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