'How does Shakespeare present Shylock to the audience as both a stereotype and a complex character?'

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‘How does Shakespeare present Shylock to the audience as both a stereotype and a complex character?’

The merchant of Venice is about a Christian merchant called Antonio; he is well respected and highly thought of. His friend Bassanio needs some ducats and Antonio being the caring friend that he is, lends money from Shylock, a Jewish usurer. Antonio makes it clear to Bassanio that if he can’t afford to pay him back, then he doesn’t have to.

    Shylock has had abuse from Antonio and the other Christians, just because he was a Jewish usurer. Shylock is abused throughout the play for example he was spat on and called names, both examples of physical and verbal abuse. So, when Antonio is in need of money he goes to Shylock, we would’ve thought Shylock would be reluctant to help Antonio, but Shylock has an ulterior motive. He knew that Antonio had ships at sea and that if those ships sunk, Antonio would have no matter to pay back the loan. Shylock decides that if Antonio doesn’t pay back the 3,000 ducats that he lends him in three months, and then he is entitled to one pound for Antonio’s flesh. This will obviously kill Antonio. Antonio hates having to lend this money, but he is desperate to help his friend and Shylock knows that he is in a strong position. An audience of the time would at this point perceive Shylock as a callous Jew. However, an audience of today would understand Shylock’s reason for vengeance.

     Shylock’s Jewish daughter Jessica, runs away from her father to marry Lorenzo, a friend of Bassanio. She steals some of her father’s wealth consisting of ducats and jewels, which will obviously irritate Shylock because he will have thought he could trust his daughter. It will infuriate him more because she has run off with a Christian aswell, the ultimate insult to Shylock because even his daughter wants to be rid of him for good.

    Before Jessica and Lorenzo actually escape, Bassanio invites Shylock for supper to divert him from seeing Jessica and Lorenzo run away together. Jessica cannot think much of her father to steal and run away behind his back. Her attitude for this could include the idea that with the lack of a mother, maybe her dad is harsh on her. She may be running away because he is uncontrollable.

    When the three months are up for Antonio to pay back his debt, Shylock takes him to court so he can fulfil his desire for revenge, once and for all. His dreams are shattered because the courtroom full of Christians see Shylock as an unmerciful Jewish villain, and this is their opinion of all Jews. Portia, dressed as a male lawyer finds a loophole in the bond which states that if Antonio bleeds or more or less of a pound of flesh is taken from Antonio, then Shylock’s own life could be at risk. In the end, Shylock comes to the decision that he doesn’t want to risk his own life for some Christian. However, Antonio is entitled to half Shylock’s wealth, but Shylock can keep his wealth on the condition he converts to Christianity and that when he dies he has to leave all his wealth to Jessica, who betrayed him and misused his trust and Lorenzo. Shylock’s religion is one of the most important things to him and asking him to convert is the ultimate insult. Shylock agrees to convert.

    I think that all the acts demonstrate negative feelings and attitudes towards Christianity and Judaism. This is because the history of Jews living in a Christian community dates back many years ago. The usurer was always seen as the sinner in Medieval England, so it is obvious how Shylock must have felt. The Christian Church at the time was also openly abusive towards Jews calling them moneymaking greedy criminals. A lot of people in Venice would have benefited from usurers when they were in need of money, however not many accepted the interest they would have to pay back along with the original sum. Still, Shylock gained success in his job and made profits.

    Shylock shows that his relationship with Christians is no more than business, Shylock says “I will buy with you, sell with you, talk to you, walk with you, and so following; but will not eat with you, drink with you, nor pray with you.” This shows that Shylock was willing to offer his profit making services to the Christians but he wasn’t prepared to socialise with them. Shylock instead of charging interest to Antonio for borrowing 3,000 ducats, requires Antonio to put his life on the line for the sake of his friend. Shylock wants one pound of Antonio’s flesh if he isn’t paid his 3,000 ducats within three months of lending Antonio it.

“Let the forfeit be nominated for an equal pound of your fair fresh, to be cut off and taken in what part of your body pleaseth me.” Obviously, the one-pound of flesh would ultimately kill Antonio and therefore Shylock would get his revenge on the Christians for always treating him disrespectfully. Shylock wants to have power and this is one way of trying to succeed in gaining it.

   Shylock wanted Antonio to suffer a horrible death and as Shylock knew Antonio’s ships had very little chance of returning, he seized the opportunity. Shylock agreed to have one pound of Antonio’s flesh if he couldn’t pay back the loan, as this way he thought he couldn’t be prosecuted by the law of Venice. Both men agreed to the bond. Shylock says “But ships are but boards, sailors but men; there be land rats, and water rats, water thieves and land thieves – I mean pirates.” Shylock is stating that all pirates are thieves on land and water, but Christians are horrible to Jews just because that is all they know.

   Jews couldn’t own land and the only job they were prohibited to do was usuring. Throughout the scenes Shylock always appears betrayed, deserted, punished, isolated and humiliated by the Christian society because of his Jewish heritage. His faith and his way of living is the Christians only true justification the Christians have for the treatment they give him.

   Shylock’s first appearance is in Act 1 Scene 3; this is where Bassanio is talking to Shylock about Antonio taking the loan on his behalf. This scene may contain the only indicator of Shylock’s true, awkward behaviour and his way of agreeing [i.e. an agreeable cunning businessman]. The arrival of Antonio and his good credit ratings shatters this. Shylock hates Antonio for not only being a Christian but because he doesn’t charge any interest to Bassanio and if this was spread around Shylock wouldn’t get much, if any, business. As Shylock says “I hate him for he is a Christian; but more for his low simplicity he lends out money gratis, and brings down the rate of usance here with us in Venice.” Even now, you can quite simply see Shylock’s hatred, initially on the principle of religion, and also his business, which besides Shylock’s religion is the most important thing.

    When Antonio lowers the usance Shylock is threatened. Antonio therefore treats Shylock with some envy and Shylock’s secret desire for revenge. Shylock’s hatred is justified in my opinion; as if Shylock wasn’t treated like this then no one would have any reason to treat him the way they do. Shylock was driven by the dominant Christian society to wanting the ultimate revenge; he wanted to kill a Christian. Shylock felt he had a justified reason for wanting revenge, however he would be seen as a villain by society at the time because they already thought Jews were callous villains, and if Shylock went through with killing Antonio, he would just live up to the name that Christians had already categorized Jews.

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   If a conclusion were needed about how Shylock acts towards other Jews, we would need to look at a scene with Shylock and other Jews. Shylock’s lack of a wife poses a lot of questions, such as: did she runaway from him like his daughter? Or did she die? Also, because of Shylock’s lack of a wife, are Jessica and Shylock quite close? However, his attitude around Jessica is tainted with this important family tie. But can his treatment to her really be justified by his mourning. Its not as if Shylock is portrayed as a super father ...

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