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The Merchant of Venice Is Shylock a victim or a villain?

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Introduction

The Merchant of Venice Is Shylock a victim or a villain? The Merchant of Venice is a play written by William Shakespeare in the Elizabethan period. It is set in Venice, situated in the northeast of Italy, in the 15th century. The play is primarily looking at the treatment of the Jewish nation in Venice but also the great conflicts between Christians and Jews. The attitude differences between an Elizabethan audience to the modern-day viewpoint also brings further depth to the play when viewing it now. Primarily the play is about two characters; Antonio, a prosperous and popular Christian merchant who has many friends and is dearly loved, and Shylock, a Jewish moneylender who earns his wealth through charging usance on loans. In the first scene of the play, we see Antonio as a generous, wealthy, popular, loved Christian merchant. Bassanio is his closest friend who owes Antonio money. However, because of how generous Antonio is he is still willing to lend money to Bassanio, which he needs to win the hand in marriage of fair Portia; this actually breaks Antonio's heart because of how he loves his best friend. Antonio, however, doesn't have the ready capital at that time to loan Bassanio because all of his capital is tied up in merchant ships at sea, but he is willing to allow Bassanio to take out a loan from a moneylender in his name. Even in this opening scene we see the warmth and kindness of Antonio, the way he is willing to seriously put himself out for his friend shows the 'Christian' love within him. Our opening introduction to the character of Shylock builds us a very graphic impression of him. In the opening lines of the conversation between Shylock and Bassanio, Shylock seems to be seriously considering the pros and cons of the loan and 'weighing up' his options. However, this may not be the case as quite simply he could be stalling to allow himself time to scheme - to calculate how to get the best for himself out of Antonio. ...read more.

Middle

Then how Shylock continues: "And what's his reason? I am a Jew. -" saying quite clearly that Antonio also has no reason, for the treatment he has forced upon Shylock, only because of him being a Jew; a Jew, after all, as continues to say is exactly the same physically as any given Christian. Therefore, why should his rights or his action in concern with the law be any different from that of ant Christian. This speech is rhetorical and powerful. One thing that is very important is how he admits he wants revenge on Antonio but in the same situation so would a Christian. A Christian would have the right to revenge so why shouldn't he - he believes the treatment of both religions, in law if nothing else, should be the same. This passage can begin to point out many of the things that we may not see clearly; it tells us how Jews are treated and informs us of the feelings Shylock holds. However, a very important thing to be realized, is that once Shylock is alone with Tubal, the first thing he asks about is his daughter: "Hast thou found my daughter?" Another thing of great impoertance that Shylock says is: "- I would my daughter dead at my foot, and the jewels in her ear; would she were hears'd at my foot, and the ducats in her coffin.- " This line can be taken in two ways; it could either be that he now hates his daughter for what she has done to him or, the more likely and the one I believe, is that it is just anger speaking. When Tubal informs Shylock of the unfortunate eventualities that have fallen upon Antonio with how his argosy from Tripolis has been lost, Shylock's anger turns from Jessica and moves onto Antonio. By the end of the scene, however, we start to feel sympathy for Shylock. ...read more.

Conclusion

When the Duke speaks of his wishes, of what he wants to happen Shylock simply states he would rather die because his life would be no longer as it was anyway as it is money that is important to him and that is what he is losing: "Nay, take my life and all, pardon not that. -" Then, however, the loss of his wealth and possessions hurts him even more when Antonio chooses to give it to Lorenzo, the Christian who stole his Jewish daughter and Shylock also has to abandon his faith and take up that which he hates and become a faithful Christian; this last thing is worse to Shylock than all else contrived. By the end of the scene, Shylock is clearly a broken man as his reply to the Duke of "I am content" clearly shows. Shylock by the end of the play has lost everything he owned; his daughter and also, effectively, his life. Antonio on the other-hand has not lost anything and has gained three thousand ducats, those that he loaned from Shylock. Although a certain amount of sympathy is due to Shylock, I still hold him, in my opinion, as a villain. My reasoning for this is that even in the first scene when we first see Shylock, in his aside he already shows great hatred. However, more than that; the line, "If I can catch him once upon the hip, I will feed fat the ancient grudge I bear him," shows that from the very beginning, Shylock intended to take his Antonio's life. Although it could be argued that this was because of the abuse Shylock had fell under, this does not give Shylock, in my opinion, the right to take Antonio's life. Therefore, I conclude that all the evidence throughout the play of The Merchant of Venice brings Shylock to be a villain, not a victim. 1 Stuart Woodhams ...read more.

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