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William Shakespeare was born in 1564, in the small town of Stratford. He wrote many plays, including the revered Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, Midsummer Night's Dream, Othello, Hamlet and, of course, The Merchant of Venice. He died in 1616, aged 52.

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Introduction

William Shakespeare was born in 1564, in the small town of Stratford. He wrote many plays, including the revered Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, Midsummer Night's Dream, Othello, Hamlet and, of course, The Merchant of Venice. He died in 1616, aged 52. This essay aims to take a look at Shylock as a character, to decide whether he is a victim or a villain. A vital gauge in the proceedings is the contrast between the reactions of audiences from Elizabethan days to recent years. The latter audience would have taunted Shylock, purely because of the fact his character is a Jew. In the sixteenth century, England was a Christian country, and all children would most certainly be baptised soon after they were born. They would also be taught the essentials of the Christian faith at a very early age. Attendance at Church was compulsory; if you failed to go without a good medical reason you would be fined. Before the plot even starts, the audience condemns Shylock because he is a Jew. During the sixteenth in England the Christians subsequently despised Jews, and any other religion or paranormal existence that they did not understand. Jews were often forbidden to own land or engage in trade in England, so the only occupation open to them was money lending, which they exploited to maximum potential. There was also a great opposition between Christians and Jews in Venice, where Christians again prevailed, because they made up the majority of the population. ...read more.

Middle

By the end of the scene, Shakespeare has painted a picture of persecution and hatred of the Jew. The audience (especially of today) would be able to sympathise - if not empathise - with Shylock's character. This can be viewed in two ways; as a poor, persecuted man attempting to make a living at one of the very few occupations open to him, or a greedy, cold, materialistic beast, caring of nothing but his monies. The next few scenes including Shylock are significant in determining the Jew's perceived innocence. In Act 2, Scene 5, Shylock leaves his house and all of its treasures in the hands of his daughter, Jessica. Unfortunately, Shylock didn't realise that Jessica was relishing the prospect of escaping him, possibly due to years of possible neglect and mistrust. This would suggest that he was a villain. However, the contempt which Jessica views her own father, her "own blood" is nothing short of scandalous, especially from a parent's point of view. Surely he is a poor old man, of whom Jessica is taking advantage? Any lingering questions were answered when Shylock came home and discovered his losses. You see in this scene Shylock's discontent with everybody, including his daughter. "...I have a Father, you a Daughter, lost." This is the final comment made before they separate after a long argument over a comment Lancelot made. This quote is also tinged with spite, because he really does lose his daughter, but leaves too quickly to listen. ...read more.

Conclusion

Clearly, Shylock seeked revenge and nothing less, he proclaimed, "If it will feed nothing else, it will feed my revenge." It could be argued, however, that Antonio deserves this unorthodox and brutal punishment. Immediately after his speech, Shylock went on to say, "he hath disgraced me, hindered me half a million, laughed at my losses, mocked at my gains, scorned my nation, cooled my friends, heated mine enemies - and what his reason? I am a Jew." The play ends with Portia denying Shylock's right to shed any of Antonio's blood, and Shylock in financial ruin. Shylock is one undoubtedly of the most confusing characters in all of Shakespeare's plays. Outwardly, he appears to be a villain concerned only about money and revenge. It is a well-argued fact, however, that Shakespeare takes this 'stereotypical' Jew much further, making him a complex character whose sufferings at the hands of racists motivate his anger and subsequent bitterness towards Christians. While Shakespeare gives no definitive portrayal of Shylock's character, he does make important suggestions in support and in denial of this antagonist. His profile of the Jew leads to new levels unknown by any of the audiences at the time, an angle of persecution, a perception questioning the integrity of Christian's prejudicing a minority, in this case Jews Having said that, it is my belief that Shylock is not the victim of the play; he is the villain. The facts are that although he was mocked and scorned, the real reason that he was hated was no that he was a Jew, rather a merciless beast who overcharged his loans and cheated poor people out of hard-earned money ...read more.

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