David Goodwin 16/06/03
Discuss the Ways Your Feelings for Shylock Develop Throughout the Play. What is Your Final Assessment of the Man and How Far do You Feel Your Feelings would be the same as Those Experienced by a Shakespearian Audience.
Shylock’s first entrance into the Merchant of Venice leaves you with no definite feelings for him. He does not immediately stand out as an enthralling character although neither does he strike you as a selfish person driven by money. Although at this point in the play I believe an audience in Shakespeare’s time would have been forced to show dislike towards Shylock just because Shylock is a Jew. In Shakespeare’s time Jews were seen as outcasts because the large majority of Britain’s population in 15th century were Christians. Today the majority of the people who watch or read the play will be less prejudiced towards Jews. I feel that Shakespeare wanted his audience to feel dislike for Shylock from the beginning of the play because he wanted the audience to support Antonio and also lull the audience under a false sense of security.
When Shylock says, “I will buy with you, sell with you, talk with you, walk with you, and so following; but I will not eat with you, drink with you, nor pray with you” you understand how passionately Shylock feels about his religion or he was just trying to aggravate Bassino. This speech came after Bassino asked Shylock to dinner; Shylock was obviously sensitively annoyed by Bassino’s gesture.
As you read further on in Act 1 Scene 3 you start to feel some mild sympathy for this man. I also feel a 21st Century audience would feel sympathy for Shylock as he describes how Bassino calls him a “misbeliever” and how Bassino spat upon Shylocks “Jewish gaberdine”. If someone did that in the 21st century they would be in serious trouble for racial abuse. During Shakespeare’s time it would be seen as common practice to spit on people of the Jewish religion. Maybe at this point in the play Shylock would still have had no sympathy from the audience of the15th Century, Bassino would be earning greater respect because of the way he despises Jews.
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Shylock then later presents his proposition, he offers Antonio the 3000 ducats that Antonio has specified he would like to borrow. On the condition that Antonio pays him back the money within “three months” but if Antonio fails to reach the deadline then Shylock “Be nominated, for an equal pound” of Antonio’s “fair flesh”. Antonio is confident that he will receive the bonds worth “within two months” at the value of “thrice three times the value” of the bond. Antonio’s money is invested in ships that import goods from foreign countries. The Shakespearean audience at this point would be oblivious to the catastrophe that is about to encounter Antonio because he has three ships out a sea and they are expected to return. The audience would be confident that nothing unpleasant could happen to Antonio as he is a Christian and was helping out a friend by borrowing the money. I believe the audiences in Shakespeare’s time were waiting for Shylock’s plan to backfire on himself. Perhaps the audience at this point would be concentrating on making a mockery of Shylock. Possibly a Shakespearean audience would be more naïve compared to a 21st Century audience because people in the 21st Century have looked at Shakespeare’s writing to a greater detail and understand his style of playwriting.. Once again at this point along with the opening scenes of the play we are forced to feel sympathy towards Shylock because of the way he has been treated, we are still yet to feel any dislike for Shylock.
In Act 2 Scene 5 we are shown some of Shylock’s anger that had been slowly building up through the last few scenes. Shylock is preparing for diner after reluctantly agreeing to Bassino’s offer. Shylock unwillingly leaves his daughter alone in the house and informs her to lock up all the doors and windows. Shylock is not taking any risks as he is loathed by Christians and wants to eliminate the possibility of a robbery or even an attack. He also informs Jessica his daughter to have no contact whatsoever with any Christians “nor thrust your head into the public street, to gaze on Christian’s fools with varnished faces”. This is again proving how much Shylock despises Christians and also how much distrust is shown between Shylock and Christians. At this point you start to feel mild dislike for Shylock as he is retaliating. He is rising to the challenge and ways of Bassino and is showing no self-discipline by mocking the Christians the way Bassino mocks Jews. A Shakespearean audience would show even greater dislike towards Shylock because of his offensive remarks against Christians.
I believe a 21st Century audience at this point I feel would be balancing on a fine line between sympathy and dislike for Shylock. This is because of the way he is treated by Christians especially at the points Scene 3 in Act 1 and also in Scene 5 Act 2 these parts of the play reinforcing sympathy for Shylock. Although he does make horrid remarks about how he despises if Christians which tips the scales in the other direction.
During Act 3 Scene 1 Shylock is told of his “daughter’s flight”. Shylock although angered by his daughter’s departure seems more engrossed in the news of Antonio’s loss of ships at sea; Shylock is delighted by the news of Antonio’s missing ships. You now start to feel dislike for Shylock; he is obviously putting his self-satisfaction and welfare before his own daughters this showing a very selfish side of Shylock. This part of the play shows a very nasty side of Shylock’s character.
Although a Shakespearean audience would have had the contentment of seeing Shylock’s own daughter run away they would now be very angered by the fact that Shylock is going to have the upper hand over a demise of a Christian. The audience I feel at this point would have realised that Antonio needed the ships to return for him to repay Shylock’s loan. The audience understood that if Antonio did not repay the bond then Shylock would kill Antonio. This is the first time in the play that you actually feel any real dislike for Shylock. I believe Shylock has had all this anger building up inside him and has just decided to let it all go at one single point in the play “My own flesh and blood to rebel!”. Shylock then goes on to try and get sympathy from the audience “I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes” and also “If you prick us, do we not bleed?” Shylock knows that he has the upper hand in the deal and is not prepared to squander his opportunity. It is very interesting to see how Shakespeare gives each character their own bait of humiliation at different stages of the play, at the start it was Antonio embarrassing Shylock as Antonio describes how he spat upon Shylock’s “Jewish gabardine” and now look how the tables have turned on Antonio. Salerio asks Shylock “whether Antonio have had any loss at sea or no?” A 21st Century audience may feel that Antonio deserves some of the trouble because of the way treats Jews, a Shakespearean audience would be feel sympathy for Antonio.
The next time we see Shylock is in the third scene of Act 3, this scene generates even more dislike for Shylock as he grants no mercy to Antonio after Antonio has come and seen Shylock. At this point Antonio is being compassionate to Shylock “Hear me yet good Shylock” although because of the bond. Shylock replies “I’ll have my bond” this again showing another inhumane side to Shylock’s character. Once again Antonio can partly blame himself because of the way he’s treated Shylock in the past so you can understand Shylock’s views to some extent although I believe if Shylock were a decent person he would show Antonio some mercy. Shylock’s behaviour forced me to dislike him even more “But, since I am a dog, beware of my fangs.” and I now feel an audience in the 21st century would be starting to side with an audience of Shakespeare’s time. Most notably after Shylock spoke “To shake the head, relent, and sigh, and yield To Christian intercessors”. In Shylock’s past two appearances in the play, we have been shown a spiteful side of Shylock that had not been shown previously in the play.
Shylock’s final appearance in the play is in the Court room scene shows once again a malicious side of Shylock. When Shylock is questioned to whether he will just take the money, he shows no resentment towards Antonio what so ever “To have the due forfeit of my bond”. Shylock describes his hatred of Antonio the same as a man who may for example hate his cat. Shylock may feel this way because you can hate your cat as much as you want and it still will not feel the abhorrence. This just proves how selfish and twisted Shylock really is as he would prefer to see someone murdered than receive a small fortune in money. You now feel pity for Antonio; I believe that an audience in the late 15th century along with an audience of the 21st century would feel the same. Although I still feel that Shylock is partly right because of the way he has been treated by Antonio. Shylock cannot be blamed for his feelings towards Antonio as it is Antonio himself who has thrust these feelings of hatred into him.
Portia then enters the courtroom dressed as a lawyer trying to persuade Shylock not to go through with the bond but again a selfish Shylock is reluctant to withdraw the bond as he wants Antonio to feel “The penalty and forfeit of my bond”. Shylock is about to cut the pound of flesh from the body of Antonio but Portia interrupts and describes how there is no mention of blood being aloud to drip from Antonio’s body. Shylock is now left with a dilemma as he starts to break down in tears. Shylock’s selfishness I feel took over him and he now would regret not taking the money. Each of the audiences would feel satisfaction that Shylock had been stopped and humiliated. A Shakespeare audience would because he was a Jew and as the majority of Britain was of a Christian religion who despised of Jews they would have been happy to see the mortification of a Jew. More controversially as we now live in a politically correct country an audience of the 21st century would have been happy to see him humiliated because of the spiteful and egotistic character that he is. This shows how our feelings may be exactly the same for Shylock but for two totally different reasons between the two audiences.
As the play progresses, your feelings for Shylock progress to as much as despising the man. In the first part of the play, you feel mild pity because of the way Shylock is treated by Christians. In Act 2 Shylock falls out with his daughter and says how he is going to dinner with Bassino only to destroy him. You now start to feel aversion towards Shylock. In Act 3 Shylock is informed of Antonio’s missing ships, Shylock is over the moon so much that he forgets about he disappearance of his daughter, this is where you start to feel real resentment towards Shylock. In Act 4 you feel the same due to the way Shylock behaves towards wanting Antonio’s pound of flesh. This shows that it was all just an act that Shylock was putting in the beginning of the play and that his true colours came out towards the end of the play. Shylock is shown to be very selfish and driven on destroying the lives of Christians.