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The presentation of Shylock as a victim or villain by Shakespeare in "The Merchant of Venice."

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Introduction

The presentation of Shylock as a victim or villain by Shakespeare in "The Merchant of Venice." In Shakespeare's "The Merchant of Venice" Shylock is both portrayed as a victim and villain. In order to determine whether which one of these suits Shylock most it is necessary to examine the character of the Jew further. Many people are villainous in the way they behave. Their acts of villainary maybe attributed to their desire to destroy others and as a result they feel they have eared respect or risen to a higher social level. However their villainous acts also maybe a response to the harsh treatment they have endured by others. Therefore they have been taught villainary as opposed to it being an element of their personality. In such occasions, revenge can fuel their thoughts is a key motivator for them to behave in a despicable manner. It is then that a clear distinction cannot be made between victim and villain. Victims are usually characterised in the way that they are persecuted against by others. Their circumstances of the victim are usually beyond their control. In Shakespeare's "The Merchant of Venice" one of the reasons Shylock is denounced by the Elizabethan audience is because of the fact that he is a Jew and a usurer. ...read more.

Middle

'A lack, what hideous sin is it in me to be ashamed to be my father's child, but though I am a daughter to his blood, I am not to his manner.' When Jessica successfully elopes with her Christian lover Lorenzo, stealing her father's gold and jewels, Shylock is equally upset about the loss of his money. The Jewish father then cries in the streets of this event. 'My daughter! O my ducats! O my daughter fled with a Christian! O my Christian ducats! Justice The law! My ducats and my daughter.' The audience do not know what Shylock is more upset about! However Shylock is shown pity upon as Jessica is his only family and he is not a popular character in the play. Gradually everyone abandons him including his servants. In contrast to Shylock's villainous acts, there are many places in the play where Shakespeare vindicates him. When we are first introduced to Shylock in Act 1 Scene 3 we learn of the harsh treatment and abuse he has received at the hands of Christians. 'You call me misbeliever, cut-throat dog, and spit upon my Jewish gabardine...' This gives the audience an idea of why Shylock is a bitter and malevolent character. ...read more.

Conclusion

Shylock's punishment is overly harsh with Antonio forcing him to convert to Christianity. Shylock's life is spared but he may be better off dead because he has nothing to live on and all his wealth has been distributed among his sworn enemies. Although Shylock pursues his revenge fervently he still has the audience's sympathy because of the unfair trial and harsh chastisement he receives. It strikes a modern day audience as grossly unfair because of the extent to which Shylock is punished not because of his crime but due to his race. He is clearly a victim of the Christians' intolerance of other races. In conclusion, I feel that ultimately Shylock is a villain. The way he treats those he is close to, for example his daughter Jessica exposes his vindictive and evil character. He lets his lust for vengeance engulf all other aspects of his life and his complete lack of mercy towards Antonio renders him a villain in the eyes of the audience. We can only guess the way in which Shakespeare intended Shylock to be shown. I feel that Shakespeare intended Shylock to be a victim, he was created to challenge the pre-conceptions and ideologies of the Elizabethan era. However, personally that is not productive for us to categorise Shylock as either victim or villain. Through Shylock, Shakespeare explores the way in which the line between the oppressed and oppressor cannot be clearly distinguished. ...read more.

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