• Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

Villain or victim? Discuss Shakespeares presentation of Shylock in The Merchant of Venice.

Extracts from this document...


Villain or victim? Discuss Shakespeare's presentation of Shylock in The Merchant of Venice. Shylock the infamous money-lender in William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, is a complex character and far more than a caricature of a Jewish villain. In Elizabethan times Jews were often discriminated against because of their faith and beliefs. It was accepted for Christians to discriminate against Jews. Anti - Semitism was based on religious events. The medieval myth that Jews needed to kill young boys once a year to reinact the death of Christ and use the blood for the making of unleaven bread, had its roots from the biblical account of the massacre of the innocents, which King Herod carried out because he was terrified of being overthrown as the King of Judea by the infant Christ. Many however, also believed that if Jews converted to Christianity, all of their 'sins' would be forgiven and they would be accepted into the arms of the Christian God. It was widely believed that Jews were responsible for the execution of Christ and so they were believed to be working with the devil. Although Jews were not allowed to own property, they were often prosperous business and engaged in money-lending, which Elizabethan Christians were not allowed to do. All the prejudices that people had concerning Jews prompted them to become portrayed as evil villains of Elizabethan dramas. ...read more.


Lancelot says to Bassanio about Shylock, 'you have the grace of God, sir, and he hath / enough.' This shows that Lancelot also believes that only Christians have the ability to have the blessing of God and perhaps that Jews will go hell because they are 'sinning' by being Jewish and not Christian. Salarino and Solanio, Christian friends of Antonio, don't think very highly of Shylock as Solanio says, 'Let me say 'amen' betimes, lest the devil cross my prayer, for here he comes in the likeness of a Jew.' Here Shakespeare causes the audience to think about how much hatred someone must have for another in order to call them 'the devil'. This is a horrible insult as it implies Shylock is an evil person and makes the audience feel more loathing towards him. They would agree with Solanio that only someone wicked could think of such a despicable thing as the bond Shylock has made with Antonio. The reference to 'the devil' would have been even more of an insult in Elizabethan times as hell and the devil were taken literally in those days. They believed that 'the devil' was an active evil which was out to corrupt honest people. So for people to think of Shylock as 'the devil' is a massive insult. Not only is Solanio insulting Shylock but he is also insulting the whole Jewish community, 'here he comes in the likeness of a Jew.' ...read more.


This links in to an earlier point which I made, that in Elizabethan times where Christians actually believed that if you were anything other than a Christian you would go to hell. So perhaps Antonio was actually trying to 'save' Shylock from hell. Shakespeare does present Jews in a sympathetic light and proves he is not being simply racist by the two most well known speeches in the play. I think Shakespeare uses Shylock as a Jewish villain as it was a great seller in that period of time to have a Jewish character which the Elizabethan audience loved to hate. However, Shakespeare does attempt to challenge the stereotype throughout the play as he uses Shylock's 'Hath a Jew...?' speech as a challenge to the treatment of Jews. Mostly I think Shakespeare was more interested in earning money than being racist and anti-Semitic towards Jews. Overall, I think that Shakespeare intends to present Shylock as a villain but he also shows his human side which perhaps explains why Shylock acts the way he does. I believe that Shylock received his just desserts at the end of the play as he was prepared to kill a man just for revenge. Although Shylock was driven to this by abuse, he could have shown his human side and acted as the better man. The fact that Shylock even thought of such a bond proves he is a villain through and through. ...read more.

The above preview is unformatted text

This student written piece of work is one of many that can be found in our GCSE The Merchant of Venice section.

Found what you're looking for?

  • Start learning 29% faster today
  • 150,000+ documents available
  • Just £6.99 a month

Not the one? Search for your essay title...
  • Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

See related essaysSee related essays

Related GCSE The Merchant of Venice essays

  1. Shylock is a tragic figure, trapped by prejudice and driven to revenge by the ...

    in her coffin" This speech proves how greedy and ruthless Shylock is. It is also real evidence of how he values ducats over his daughter again, and is enough to make the audience hate him again. He is definitely not a victim here as he is verbally abusing his own daughter.

  2. Is Shylock More Sinned Against Than Sinning? Discuss...

    She then asks if Antonio confesses to the bond and he says yes, Portia then defines the word mercy. She tries persuading Shylock, he had been offered three times the amount which he had been lent, after refusing Portia says the bond must stand and Antonio is to prepare to loose the flesh.

  1. The Merchant of Venice: Is Shylock a villain or a victim who deserves our ...

    Antonio questions "Was this inserted to make interest good? Or is your gold and silver ewes and rams?" Shylock says that he cannot tell, because he makes the money bred as fast, meaning that his money increases all the time due to the interest.

  2. Free essay

    Is Shylock a Victim or a Villain in the Play "The Merchant of Venice"?

    In Act 4, Scene 1 it will be decided if Shylock should get the pound of flesh from Antonio that was promised to him in a bond. From the start, Shylock is referred to as 'the Jew' and is said to be 'incapable of pity, void and empty'.

  1. What was Shakespeare's representation of women and how does he show this in the ...

    (Act 4) Initially Shakespeare makes us believe that the character of Portia is weak and submissive but this was only to emphasise that women were far from this. During the first task Shakespeare demonstrates that women have opinions but also that men sometimes leave women powerless.

  2. The Merchant of Venice - Jessica - Victim or Villain?

    life to get this far, and for it all to be taken from him in an instance by his deceitful daughter must have been utterly demoralising. It suggests that he no longer even wants the gold because he is so furious at Jessica 'would she were hearsed at my foot

  1. Merchant of Venice - is Shylock an evil villain?

    Just before they agree to the bond, Shylock talks about the story of Jacob and Laban's sheep. When Jacob and his Uncle Laban had agreed that Jacob should have all the spotted and streaked sheep and goats in the flock, the ewes were put with the rams to mate.

  2. In the Elizabethan period it was a literary traditionthat Jews were portrayed in a ...

    out of what is rightfully theirs, showing making profit out of others misfortune is righteous: "This was a way to thrive, and he was the best: And thrift is blessing, if the man do not steal" 1:3:85-86 This extract implies that the Jews have the opposite view to Christians, that

  • Over 160,000 pieces
    of student written work
  • Annotated by
    experienced teachers
  • Ideas and feedback to
    improve your own work