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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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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.
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