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The merchant of Venice - Is Shylock a villain or a victim?

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Introduction

GCSE Shakespeare Coursework Essay Is Shylock a villain or a victim? One of the factors that make Shakespeare plays famous is its capability to appeal to wide range of audience. For example in The Merchant of Venice Shakespeare brings up the question of religion, racism and morality for the intellectuals amongst the Elizabethans but for most off the groundlings and ill-educated it was a simply a battle between Christians and Jews in which the Jew (e.g. Shylock) should end up facing the heat of defeat in the climax. England was a Christian country, where Christianity was followed and taught from early ages. At this time Jews were perceived as "villains of society" in fact in the Venetian community towards the centre of Venice, you would find the homes of Christians and towards the outskirts and suburbs you would find the homes of Jews which showed that were hated, unwanted and excluded members of society. They were far inferior and a marginalized community to that of the Christians because of their religion. It was also at the time when the buzz was going around about Jews being the killers of Christ for which they were hated and secluded more. Venice was a very desirable and rich place to live in being the important trade route from the east to the west. Jews were often banned from owning land or to participate in any trade. So effectively the Jews ended up with a lot of spare cash to spend on investment. Christians were banned to profit on lended money there fore they borrowed money from the Jews and were hated by Christians for making profit on money lending. ...read more.

Middle

Shylock is again seen as a villain for being mean to her daughter, mysterious and a repressor of faith. As night falls Lorenzo and friends meet Jessica. She gives the casket of jewels to Lorenzo, who tells her not to be ashamed of what she is doing. Audience here wants the affair to succeed because they want her to get away from her father who is a villainous Jew and what's more by giving the casket of jewels she is betraying the Jew, which is always good for the audience. In Act 3 scene 1 Salerio confirms the bad news of Antonio ships sinking whereas on the other hand Shylock now lements the disappearance of his daughter and blames Salerio for knowing about his daughter's elopement with Lorenzo. Shylock emphasises the betrayal of his own flesh and body and tells Antonio to look to his bond "Shylock - You knew none so well, none so well as you, of my daughter's flight........ My own flesh and body to rebel....... he was wont to lend money for a Christian courtesy. Let him look to his bond." There is lot of emphasis on the flesh and body in this part where shylock's bond is to take a flesh from Antonio's body part as a way to his revenge but also on the other hand the betrayal of Jessica to shylock and her family's flesh and blood. It is a very symbolic theme in the play. We again see no kindness on Shylock's behalf to Antonio as he lacks any human feeling towards him. ...read more.

Conclusion

This marks the end of shylock. He is no more a rich Jew who has lots of money to lend He is a beggar who had lost all his money, his property and his daughter. He is left ruined and the Christians have won this battle against the Jew. He is utterly defeated. Gratiano make facial expressions of triumph over the Jew and so would all the audience. The play ends with Jessica being welcomed happily into the Christian community and there is music all over. Shakespeare had also been heart broken by Emilia Bassano (a very rich independent Jewish lady). If Shakespeare had been badly treated by a Jewish family then it may explain to us why the play is very pitiless to shylock towards the climax. The play is betrayal in light with faith. The punishment given to shylock however was fair to 16th century audience because of the racial prejudices between both the religions. To the modern audience it is not the right climax because we know about the bloodthirsty history of the holocaust, the mid-east battle and the rise of political correction. They speak for themselves. Even the Birth right of Shylock to believe in the Jewish religion is snatched away from him which means unfair treatment towards the Jews. Referring back to the question Shylock cannot be just a victim or a villain; he has to be a composition of both. He is victim of abuses some time and other times he is a villain in his actions and thoughts. One thing to notice here is that Shylock is referred in the play more as Jew, Wolf or devil. He is referred to as shylock very few times in the play. ...read more.

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