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Was Shylock a Victim or a Villain?

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Introduction

Was Shylock a Victim or a Villain? The Jews have unfairly endured extreme persecution for thousands of years, because of their strong beliefs. The Jews lost their own country to the Romans, and had to move out. They have not had an official country until recently, and had to settle down in tight-knit communities, in foreign countries. Their racial prejudice towards them was caused by their intelligence, hard work and success in business in conjunction with their hate for keeping up their customs and religion. Another reason for their loathing is because they can be used as a scapegoat. They are a convenient group to single out and blame for troubles. Hitler, like many totalitarian dictators before him, needed to divert blame for his nation's problems by ascribing them to an innocent victim. He randomly selected the Jews as his scapegoat and launched a massive campaign against them to alienate them from mainstream German society. He succeeded in his efforts, and as a result, the overwhelming majority of Germans came to hate Jews. Two thousand years ago, the Jews lived in a country now called Israel. Unfortunately for them, the Romans had succeeded to take over their land. The Romans let the Jews have religious freedom at first, but later tried to abolish the Jewish faith and country, in a process called 'Diaspora'. This led to Jewish communities living all over the world. ...read more.

Middle

They bully Shylock, like Antonio did in Act 1 Scene 3, calling him "Dog Jew" and they laugh at the prospect of children following him around, running after him. I personally, sympathise with Shylock in this part of the story, because it would be devastating to lose your daughter. But I think there is a bit of villainy in his character, if Solanio and Salerio's second hand account is true, as Shylock is also worried about his ducats. His worry about material wealth makes me sympathise less with him. Solanio and Salerio taunt Shylock in Act 3 Scene 1 to make him feel worse than he is already. This scene makes him look the victim in my view. Again the insult "devil" is included in the scene, as an anti Semitic insult. Shylock refers to Jessica as his own flesh and blood, but Salerio responds by cruelly saying that there is more connection between "jet and ivory" and "red wine and Rhenish". In this scene is a famous speech, lines 54-69, by Shylock that portrays him as a mixed character, both a victim and a villain. The parts that show he is a villain in Shylock's famous speech are that he is intent upon revenge, "If a Christian wrong a Jew, what/ should his sufferance be by Christian example? Why,/revenge!". Even though he might appear to be a pure villain in this part of the speech, he argues logically, not out of spite, that Christians exact revenge, so why shouldn't a Jew? ...read more.

Conclusion

He is both a victim and a villain in this instance. I believe that it is fair for Shylock to be punished, but I think the Christians have gone too far to punish him. He has to lose his faith, which is what makes him who he is, his whole life's wealth, meaning that he has worked so far for nothing, and I believe Shylock should have been treated with more mercy than what he had been treated. I agree with Sir Peter Hall that he is a very complex character, and that is what makes him an interesting character. He is so complex; he is both a victim and a villain, depending on the circumstances. My conclusion is that Shylock cannot be given a label of 'victim' or 'villain'; he is a complex mix of both. In the first part of the play, i.e. before the court scene, he is more of a victim than a villain. But as the plot unfolds and his plan comes to action, he is more of a villain. There is no definite answer, and the whole victim and villain argument is open to interpretation. One thing is for sure, Shakespeare did not want us to think he was a victim in any of this. In Shakespeare's time, Jews were considered lower class and mediocre, and probably this was the view Shakespeare had. It is only through modern, anti-racist eyes, are we able to see his victimisation. ...read more.

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