Does Shylock deserve the treatment he receives in the play? Where do your sympathies lie?
In this essay I am going to be writing about the way that my sympathies towards the character Shylock change over time. During the early parts of the play I feel as if Shylock is being bullied due to his religion, and therefore feel very sympathetic towards him. However, there are sections in the play where I feel a complete lack of compassion towards Shylock, as his actions are arrogant and unforgiving. At the end of the play I am left with mixed feelings over Shylock, as he is punished severely and, arguably, unfairly.
Throughout the play Shylock is the subject of much torment and abuse at the hands of the Christians. One of the many occasions we see this poor treatment is when Shylock reminds Antonio of his previous actions.
“You call me misbeliever, cut-throat dog,
And spit upon my Jewish gabardine,”
(Act 1, Scene 3, Line 108-109)
From this we can see that Antonio bullies Shylock both physically and verbally, and also shows a hatred for Shylock’s religion. A “gabardine” is a cloak worn by a Jew to display their faith, and to spit on it is displaying a real contempt for both the religion and Shylock himself.
Another section of the play where the characters show a real derision towards Shylock is in Act 2, Scene 8, while he is not even present. This takes place when Salerio and Solanio are discussing the elopement of Jessica and Lorenzo.
“I never heard a passion so confused,
So strange, outrageous, and so variable,
As the dog Jew did utter in the streets:
‘My daughter! O my ducats! O my daughter!’ ”
(Act 2, Scene 8, Lines 12-15)
Not only does Solanio insult Shylock by calling him “dog Jew”, but they also mock his reaction to finding out about the loss of his daughter and money. They are almost laughing at the fact he can’t decide which one is more important to him: his daughter or his money. These two things coupled together are insults to Shylock, even if he can’t hear them.
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The final example of Shylock receiving abuse from the Christians is found in the court scene, where Gratiano hurls insults at him.
“O, be thou damned, inexorable dog!
And for thy life let justice be accused;”
(Act 4, Scene 1, Lines 128-129)
This is a very harsh insult as Gratiano calls Shylock a “dog” and says that it is an injustice that he was ever born. This shows that Gratiano hates Shylock passionately and would be much happier were he never born.
Antonio and Shylock clearly feel a string loathing for each other. Antonio’s dislike of Shylock stems from the fact that he is Jewish and is a moneylender who charges interest; this is forbidden by Christians. Shylock despises Antonio due to the fact that he is a Christian and lends money as a favour with no interest, thus undermining Shylock’s business.
Despite all this, they choose to enter into a legally binding contact, as Antonio borrows 3000 ducats from Shylock, in order to aid Bassanio. After some discussion, Shylock suggests that if Antonio does not repay the money on time, a pound of flesh should be cut from Antonio. This suggestion is merely a joke, but nonetheless, it is agreed upon hastily by Antonio. We can tell Shylock is joking due to the fact that he says the bond be taken “in a merry sport”. This gives the impression that this part of the deal is made purely to satisfy the needs of the bond, and that Shylock has no intention of cutting Antonio. Antonio has no qualms with the bond, as he says:
“Within these two months, that’s a month before,
this bond expires, I do expect return
Of thrice three times the value of this bond.”
(Act 1, Scene 3, Lines 154-156)
This shows that Antonio expects the return of his ships a whole month prior to the repayment date, which will bring back more than enough money.
However, what goes on before this leads us to seeing a different side of Shylock. Earlier he says:
“If I can catch him once upon the hip,
I will feed fat the ancient grudge I bear him,”
(Act 1, Scene 3, Lines 43-44)
From this we see that if Shylock can catch Antonio at a disadvantage, (catch him one upon the hip), he will make the most of his opportunity. Also, the word “ancient” really shows how long Shylock has hated Antonio and has been waiting for his chance. This also makes us think that given the opportunity Shylock will not let it go easily. In my opinion this shows that what Shylock says after this to Antonio is a façade and in reality he is hoping Antonio fails to repay him. I think that Shylock fully intends to cut the pound of flesh from Antonio, should the opportunity arise.
During the court scene we see Shylock behave in a very arrogant, ruthless and merciless way. He adamantly refuses to hear any attempts on persuading him to show any mercy.
“Till thou canst rail the seal from off my bond,
Thou but offend’st thy lungs to speak so loud;”
(Act 4, Scene 1, Lines 139-140)
From this we can see that the attempts of persuading Shylock are completely in vain, unless they can somehow remove the seal from the bond. This shows Shylock acting in a very stubborn way, as nothing can be done to move him. As well as this, Shylock ignores the Duke, who is a very powerful and important man. This further displays Shylock’s arrogance.
We also come to understand that Shylock is not merely exacting his revenge due to the fact he has not received his money, as Basssanio offers more. But Shylock declines, and states that:
“If every ducat in six thousand ducats
Were in six parts, and every part a ducat,
I would not draw them; I would have my bond!”
(Act 4, Scene 1, Lines 85-87)
This gives us the idea that Shylock is seeking revenge for the bad treatment he has received from Antonio and also the other Christians. This is backed up by what he later says:
“So I can give no reason, nor will I not,
More than a lodged hate and a certain loathing
I bear Antonio,”
(Act 4, Scene 1, Lines 59-61)to accept no money or reason to prevent him taking out his revenge.
I also believe that Shylock is quite enjoying the fact that he is now in a position of such power, with the Christians begging him to show mercy. I think that this can be seen when Shylock is sharpening his knife, when Bassanio asks him:
“Why dost thou whet thy knife so earnestly?”
To which Shylock replies:
“To cut the forfeiture from that bankrupt there!”
(Act 4, Scene 1, Lines 121-122)
The fact that Shylock is so readily sharpening his knife, even though the case is still ongoing, shows an effort on his part to intimidate Antonio. Because of this, Shylock is obviously confident with the way the case is going, so he feels he is able to enjoy the moment by rubbing salt into the wounds of Antonio.
At the end of the scene Shylock is severely punished, after Portia, impersonating a young male lawyer, is able to prevent the bond going through. The punishments are very harsh and, arguably, unfair. The punishments are as follows:
“…so he will let me have
The other half (of Shylock’s money) in use, to render it
Upon his death unto the gentleman
That lately stole his daughter.
Two things provided more: that for this favour
He presently become a Christian;
The other, that he do record a gift,
Here in the court, of all he dies possessed
Unto his son Lorenzo and his daughter,”
(Act 4, Scene 1, Lines 380-388)
This is a very serious punishment and one that will affect Shylock’s life greatly. To begin with, half of Shylock’s current wealth must be given to Antonio to keep until Shylock’s death. At this point Antonio will give the sum to Lorenzo. This is made worse by the fact that Lorenzo is the man who took his daughter away from him. Secondly, Shylock must become a Christian immediately. In my view, this is the harshest of all the punishments, as religion plays a central part in people’s lives. Furthermore, Shylock will no longer be able to work as a moneylender, as it is forbidden by Christians. This means that Shylock will have to completely change his life and possibly move out of Venice, because after all that has happened, he will be hated by the majority of people. This also means it will be difficult for him to find another job. The final part of the punishment is that Shylock must leave any of his future earnings and wealth to Lorenzo, upon Shylock’s death. Again, this is made worse by the fact that Lorenzo is the person who took away his daughter, and is someone that Shylock will feel a deep hatred for. Shylock accepts these punishments and leaves quickly.
At the end of the play I am left with mixed feelings over whether my sympathies lie with Shylock or not. Early in the play, he is mistreated, abused and bullied by the Christians, even though we haven’t seen Shylock do anything to provoke them. It is Shylock’s religion that makes the Christians hate him so much, which mirrors the way people of the time were. The Jews were an ethnic minority in Europe at the time and were envied due to their relative success and as they were good with money. I also feel sorry for Shylock as his daughter runs away from home, stealing money from him as well.
However, my feelings of sympathy for Shylock begin to wane when he acts very ruthlessly and arrogantly in the court. I can empathise with Shylock and understand why he would behave in such a way, as the Christians are cruel to him. Nevertheless, this does not justify the fact that he would have happily allowed Antonio to bleed to death. I think that he should have been the better person, and shown the Christians that he was above them, and able to forgive. But when Shylock decides he wants to go ahead with the bond, I start to feel less sympathy for him.
When Shylock’s punishments are given out to him, my sympathies for Shylock return once again. These punishments are very severe, especially having to become a Christian. I think Shylock felt that it could have been worse however, as he leaves quickly and quietly, so that the Duke cannot change his mind. In my opinion, a suitable punishment would have been just the first condition on its own. This was that Shylock must give half of his wealth to Antonio, who would give it to Lorenzo. I don’t think that Shylock deserves to have the other two punishments, as they will virtually ruin his life.