“Shylock victim or villain?”

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 “Shylock victim or villain?”

In this essay I will try to determine whether, in the Merchant of Venice, Shylock is portrayed as a victim or villain. The Merchant of Venice is set in Venice, which is positioned in the North East of Italy and is sometimes known as the “Queen of the Adriatic”; it has got this nickname for its strong naval power. The majority of people in Shakespeare’s era had no respect for Jews and the higher classes of society treated them as lower class citizens. The play was written at the time of Queen Elizabeth I and the people found in the audience would not sympathise with the character of Shylock who was a Jew. The hatred towards Jews was so great that Shakespeare had to set this play away from England as, on a number of occasions Shylock is shown to be right in what he says or does and so by setting the play so far away people could disassociate themselves with the play since Jews were always seen to be wrong. I think that in this play Shakespeare tries to tell people to treat everybody as equals by showing sympathy towards Shylock and with Shylock’s speak in Act 3 scene 5. Christians hated Jews because they were almost always money lenders which was a job given to them because, by Christian rules they were not able to do it, Jews were rarely allowed to own land or take part in trade and so they had to take full advantage of lending money. In Venice at the time that the play was written it was mainly populated by Christians who lived in the centre with the Jews around the outside, they were seen as outsiders and demoralised because of their religion. In the play, Venice is seen to be very wealthy, this came about because of the strong trade routes through Venice.

The first scene that Shylock is in is Act 1 scene 3, His first line is; “Three thousand ducats.” This can be seen as the words of a man trying to make a living in the only job open to him or it could be seen as the words of a greedy man who will do anything to make extra money. I think that in this part of the play he is shown to be an abused man because he makes a big thing about locking up the house and when his daughter does not do this he gets very annoyed, he ends up hitting his daughter in the argument, this shows how he feels he cannot trust anybody in Venice. By hitting his daughter he shows the extent of the importance of locking the door to protect their belongings. We are told how Antonio has publicly abused and humiliated Shylock; “He rails even there where merchants most do congregate.” And; “you call me misbeliever, cut throat dog and spit upon my Jewish gabardine.” this shows us that Antonio has obviously been spreading rumours and calling Shylock names behind his back. It shows that Shylock has been victimised.  Antonio also seems to be putting Shylock out of business; “he lends money gratis.” this means that Antonio has been lending out money to people with no interest. Jews were often given jobs, which were hated by society such as moneylenders. To make money from this business they had to charge interest on the money they lent, if Antonio was lending money for free no one would ask to borrow money off Shylock, putting him out of business. In this scene we are also shown that Antonio does not particularly like Jews; “he hates our sacred nation” this is what Shylock says in the aside when he first meets Bassanio and Antonio. We are also told that Shylock is a villain when he says; “if I can catch him once upon the hip, I'll feed fat the ancient grudge I bear him.” this shows that Shylock is obviously planning something to get back at Antonio for all the things he has done to him. Shylock twists a Bible story to feed his needs Antonio remarks; “He is like a villain with the smiling cheek” Antonio is trying to say that this is not what the story was for, he has also recognised Shylock as a villain because of the way he has twisted a sacred story.  Shylock is then shown to be a true villain when he says; “let the forfeit be nominated for an equal pound of your fair flesh, to be cut off and taken from what part of your body pleaseth me.” this is an evil bond but, nonetheless Antonio goes along with it.  Antonio reveals that he has sent out all his money in ships to different countries and is expecting them all to return in two months time, it is not likely that they will all sink.

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From several scenes in act 2 we can see that Jessica does not like living with Shylock; “our house is hell, and thou a merry devil didst rob it of some taste of tediousness.” this shows that even Shylock's own daughter feels that he is a devil, and she would know him better than anyone else. Then Lancelot shows that he does not respect Shylock, when Shylock tells Jessica not to open the windows Lancelot says; “mistress, look out at window for all this.” this shows that Shylock is not respected either by Lancelot or Jessica.

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