How does Shakespeare present the character of Shylock in the play? Is it possible to sympathise with him?

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How does Shakespeare present the character of Shylock in the play? Is it possible to sympathise with him?

Shylock is introduced as a wealthy, Jewish man who lends money and charges interest.  He seems to know Antonio, a local merchant in Venice, as when Antonio goes to him for money he says how Antonio has previously spat on him.  We do not know whether Shakespeare meant this to be literate or metaphorical but we do know that many Christians hated Shylock as in Elizabethan times usurers were looked down at as usury was against Christian practise and Shylock was a Jew.  Shylock takes a key part in the bond plot, a plot that involved the lending of some Ducats to Antonio so long as if he need to forfeit he must give willingly a 1lb of his flesh.  Antonio agrees as the way Shylock said it to him made it sound like it was a joke, and he was certain that his ships would be arriving soon with more than enough to pay off the debt.

Further on in the play, we are introduced to Jessica, Shylock’s daughter.  Jessica is not very fond of her father and we see this in action when she runs away with a young Christian and is converted.  She also steals a number of precious jewels and Ducats from her father.   This sends Shylock into a rage and he is pleasantly surprised to find out that Antonio’s ships have failed him and so Antonio must forfeit the bond.  Shylock seems more irate that his ducats are lost then his daughter.  This is his chance for revenge against Antonio and taking out his anger about his daughter.  He even says: ‘I would my daughter were dead at my foot, and the jewels in her ear’ this shows him in his evil state and that he would rather see his daughter dead if it meant getting his jewels back.  

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He goes to the courtroom fully prepared to exit with a pound of his enemies flesh.  However, the fact that shylock keeps making a point of showing importance against sticking to the exact words of the bond go against him. When the Judge (Portia in disguise) reminds him that he didn’t ask for blood and so if any blood spills when he takes the flesh then he will have all his possessions taken from him, as he will have broken the bond and law.  When Shylock decides he would rather take the money that Bassanio has agreed to pay, ...

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The candidate fails to mention Shakespeare's use of language, and how he deliberately writes in a way that catches the audience attention. It is necessary to discuss the use of linguistic techniques, such as metaphors and similes, in order to achieve a higher grade at this level. On a positive note the essay is fluent and easy to read and there is no real issue with spelling, grammar or punctuation. Overall I would say that this is a pretty average example of the standard of work I would expect for this level of qualification.

For the most part the candidate simply retells parts of the play, without giving any analysis or mentioning any further points. This is something you need to avoid as much as possible. It is often important to discuss certain scenes in a play, but you need to find a way to do this without simply retelling the story. You should discuss the characters thoughts and feelings, even if it’s just a guess at how you think they might feel. In addition the candidate uses very few quotations from the play, it is important to pick key quotations that back up your ideas and opinions. However the candidate does discuss the differences in the way Shylock is portrayed in the film version; this insight adds an interesting note to the essay. I would also like to add that the candidate could have gained a higher grade by undergoing independent research, this shows your interest in the play and also makes the essay more enjoyable for the reader. Finally there is no real conclusion to this essay, though the ending paragraph does mention an important point about the characters views of religion. A conclusion should answer the initial question, summarise your key points and ideas and include your personal opinions (in this case your opinions of the character Shylock). This is important as it brings the essay to a close and gives you a chance to leave the reader with a good impression.

The candidate uses the introduction to discuss the scene in which Antonio talks to Shylock about loaning some money. The introductory paragraph of an essay should be used to introduce what you plan to discuss, in this case it should introduce Shylock as character i.e his appearance and personality. It is not necessary to talk about specific scenes of the play in your very first paragraph. The candidate’s response to the question is at times a little vague, they sometimes discuss parts of the play without saying how this gives an insight to Shylock’s personality. In addition the candidate does not clearly discuss whether or not the audience sympathises with Shylock. It is essential to make sure that whatever you're discussing, you always come back to the main question.