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Shylock - Villain or Victim?

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Introduction

Is Shylock a villain or victim in Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice? The overall climax of this play is brilliantly displayed because the realism of the discrimination and prejudice towards Jews helps us to develop a sympathetic feeling for them. Shakespeare has included the historical and incorporated the biblical references in the speeches of this play. Examples such as the story of Jacob and his sheep from the Book of Genesis Chapter 30 quoted by Shylock to justify his way of doing business. Typically, all of the Jews in Europe experienced a lot of discrimination from Christians during the Middle Ages because of their different appearances, lifestyles, laws and their religion. Shakespeare wrote this play for the Christian audience during the Elizabethan times. They were very prejudiced towards religions that were not pure Christian and would have hated the Jews because they had supposedly "murdered" Jesus Christ. Additionally, in reference to the mythological story of the "Wondering Jew" who was condemned to an everlasting life of misery, had developed an evil character who was believed to kidnap and murder Christian children. This is a personification of exile and Christian condemnation of the Jewish people. Because of this Christians would also have a sense of xenophobia because they feared that Jews would take their land and their wealth from them. During the sixteenth century, the victimised Jews would be forced to live in dreaded isolated areas called "ghettos" by anti-Semitic leaders such as Martin Luther who was "possessed by the devil" said the Vatican chief's exorcist. ...read more.

Middle

Shylock increases the tempo and depth of his speech by emphasising the similarities between the religions. Shylock: ...fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer as a Christian is? ... Here, Shylock tries to cry out a reason towards Solanio and Salarino about why the Jews do not feel the same way as Christians do in environmental situations and if they should be judged in a different way. Additionally, his speech is further heightened by the references towards death to create suspense. continued : ...If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge? ... Here, Shylock questions Solanio and Salarino (and quite possibly anyone else who are listening from the streets). Are the Jews not as emotional or as physical as the Christians? Are they dead inside? Have they no heart? Are they not approved to obtain revenge? Typically this speech was designed to induce the audience's sympathy for Jews and Shylock especially. Throughout the whole speech Shylock mentions his strong feelings about the persistence of revenge and if Christians can have revenge so can the Jews, if the laws of the Jews are fair, so should the Christian laws be; this is an added emphasis on how Jews are treated by Christians and how the equilibrium between Christianity and Judaism is further deteriorating. ...read more.

Conclusion

Shylock painfully admits that he cannot carry it out and is crushed by the legal punishment unless the Duke showed mercy and the fact that he had lost his money to his daughter's Christian husband, Lorenzo. On top of that, Antonio is released and inflicts an overly harsh punishment forcing Shylock to convert to Christianity. Ultimately, he holds his faith and his life is spared but he would rather be dead because his money is distributed among his "enemies" and his revenge is wasted therefore he has not much to live for. This creates a very sympathetic emotion from the audience towards Shylock despite his lust for revenge. To conclude, I believe that Shylock is a victim because despite the fact that he treats his daughter callously he is constantly bogged down with disrespect from the outside world which demoralises him. Although he lets his lust of vengeance overwhelm the other aspects of his life, he still possesses some heart towards others that are kind to him. That in particular encourages me to feel sympathetic towards Shylock because he may never receive a fair hearing about him since everywhere he goes he is continuously ridiculed and spat on by Christians. To some extent, I believe that Shakespeare had intended to portray him as a victim also since the character was meant to undertake the Christian law and society of the Elizabethan age and confront some certain prejudice and intolerance. Furthermore, Shakespeare had also included a vast element of a wicked character in Shylock, representing the immorality of Jews therefore making the play in favour of the Christian audience. ...read more.

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