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Whether Shylock is seen as the villain or the victim of 'The Merchant of Venice' depends on point of view.

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Introduction

Whether Shylock is seen as the villain or the victim of 'The Merchant of Venice' depends on point of view. I think that there is scope for his character being interpreted either way, varying with viewpoint, sympathies, and personal translation of the character. A major difference in viewpoint is between two relevant audiences - Shakespeare's contemporary audience, and the modern-day audience. Shakespearean audiences would be more likely to take the play at its face value, and judge Shylock accordingly. At that time, plays had a relatively simple set out and construction. Most plays had an obvious 'villain' and this is the role that Shylock would fulfil for them, and nothing more. Modern audiences read more into plays, and deeper into characters, and Shylock can no longer be looked on as a straightforward villain. The modern audience is more sympathetic to Shylock, and there is quite a lot to sympathise with. Shakespearean audiences were more than likely extremely anti-Semitic and so from the very beginning of the play Shylock is hated because of his religion. Anti-Semitism was very common at the time, with plays such as 'The Jew of Malta' being very popular, so 'villainous Jew' was the common opinion. Nowadays, religion is not such a narrow-minded issue, and audiences are more able to judge Shylock free from racial prejudice, considering Shylock as a possible victim in the play. ...read more.

Middle

Jewish gaberdine,' and this actually makes us feel, contrary to our original idea of Shylock, that he is the victim, at the hands of the Christians. What makes Shylock particularly vulnerable is the fact that he is so isolated from all of the other characters, and in fact, most of Venice. He has no real companions, let alone friends in the whole play, except for possibly his daughter, and she devastates him by leaving him, and eloping with a Christian. Even she feels uncomfortable about Shylock, describing their family set up as a 'house of hell', and mentions that she is 'ashamed to be my father's child', possibly suggesting that it is not just his religion that makes him so loathed in Venice, but his personality also. It generates pretty bad feelings towards Shylock that he is so abhorrent that even his own flesh and blood dislikes him, but at the same time you can't help feeling sorry for him, as he is so alone in a play that is so centred on love and unity. This isolation does make him a very pitiable character, but it could be said that he brings it on himself and wouldn't have it any other way. He certainly wouldn't be friendly towards the Christians if they were in the minority amongst Jews, as that is part of his character, and the part that makes him dislikeable in so many situations. ...read more.

Conclusion

The court scene is a key point in the play, though it is the last time that we see Shylock. That in itself is interesting, as, were he the true victim of the play, surely Shakespeare would have him return closer to the end of the play, for his situation to be resolved slightly? As it is, he has a fairly typical exit as a villain, the Christians get their revenge, and he is banished in humiliation and shame, having got his 'just desserts', and having been stripped of all that made him a villainous character, his religion, and his wealth, which has been a subject of unease throughout the play as he has lots of money, often the Christians appear to have none, and this puts him in a villainous position of superiority over them. In another triumph for the Christians, he has lost his other treasure, his daughter to them, so it seems that his ruin is complete. As a victim, this scene treats Shylock very badly. He comes to the court, half-crazed over the cruel loss of his daughter to his archenemies, hoping to find justice in a world of hatred and prejudice. It's quite pathetic how he clings desperately to the Christian law, in the hope that the permanency of it would help his cause. His absolute focus on revenge 'I will have my bond', 'look to the bond', is quite pathetic, and it is rather sad that he has no allies in the world. ...read more.

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