In Elizabethan England, many people were anti-semeitic, these people were driven by hatred. In the middle ages, Jews were accused of exploiting Christians, spreading the plague and murdering babies. They were banned from England in 1290, and were not officially allowed back into the country until several decades after the Merchant o Venice had been written. Centuries later Jews were targeted again by an economically depressed Germany and Adolf Hitler aiming to exterminate the Jewish race forever. Fortunately Hitler failed, but he did slaughter millions of innocent Jews. People of Jewish religion have been despised for centuries mainly by Christians as it was against their religion to to lend and extort money. Shylock was automatically hated as he was a sterotypical jew in appearance and profession.
Shylock was a victim of Christian hatred channelled through abuse and violence. He was regularly called such names as “a cur” or a “cut throat dog”, this hatred turned physical when he was spat upon and pushed out of the way. He may exploit people in his profession, but even after the money has been payed back, Antonio admits he still would not be civil with Shylock, because he is still a money lending Jew. Jews are portrayed as a similar character to Satan, Antonio even calls Shylock a devil to his face. Shylock is very religious and a orthadox Jew, almost a religious fanatic when he quotes parts of the Old Testament relating to Jacob and his sheep. For a religious man, his stereotypical profession also made him a villain in many people’s eyes, but Jews were not allowed any other jobs.
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His own daughter Jessica elopes with some of his savings and jewels. If this wasn’t vistimising enough she converts to a Christian. His servant Lancelot is also leaving him to serve under Bassanio, also a Christian, whom he hated with a passion due to the abuse he claims, he has received from them.
He is referred to as a devil, and according to his daughter, Jessica his house is “hell”. His daughter Jessica, hurts him emotionly again when he hears that she swapped a valuable family heirloom , a turquise ring for a monkey. Shylock takes this news to the heart , as he says “I would not have swapped that ring for a wilderness full of monkeys.”. This shows Shylock is human and tells us that the ring belonged to his deceased wife.
Even in court, he is treated with no respect, as the ‘impartial’ duke even regards him as “the Jew”, and “the inhuman wretch”. The dukes behaviour isn’t very ‘Christian like’. Shylock calls these people hypocritical , not for the name calling, because they ask Shylock to show mercy and spare the life of Antonio. Shylock then poses the question , why don’t they themselves show mercy on their slaves, who were kept against their will.
During the courtroom scene, he shows his real feelings when he delivers the ‘Hath not a Jew’ speech. Shylock’s ‘Hath not a Jew’ speech tells us about his character, and shows he is not a “inhuman wretch” after all. His use of short rhetorical and repeitive questions makes his point clear. His question is of that Jews are the same as everyone else. They bleed, they feel pain and exactly as anyone, Christians, Muslims or anyone. All he asks is to be treated with the same dignity and respect. When Shylock says this, he as a character is put to the front of the stage, at the forefront trying to prove his point.
Shylock seems to get angry and frustrated during the speech, trying to get his point across to the audience and to the two characters he is talking to.
The Christians pick on Shylock at his weakest, when they tell him that his daughter is so different to him, almost like “jet and ivory”.
The Christians may be cruel to him, but as he says himself, he can be even more evil, “The villany you teach me I will execute, and it shall go hard but I will better the instruction.”
We see the other side of Shylock at the start, when he dreams of money, and seems to be obsessed in everyway possible, His first words in the play are “ Three thousand ducats-well ”.
The mear fact of the agreement of the ‘bond’ gives the idea he was evil minded. It also shows he must hate the Christians and is a oppatunist.
All throughout the play he talks of cannibalistic images; an example of this “ was the last person in our mouths.”. This can be linked back to the folk-lore and legends of the middles ages, where it was said that Jews slaughtered babies, and in some cases ate them. The ‘wandering’ Jews have always been targeted as evil, and compared to devils. Another cannibalistic image was “..to feed upon the prodigal Christian.”. Showing again how much he hated the Christians.
Shylock shows his lack of generosity towards everyone, even his daughter, “find bind, find fast.” is his motto. His daughter is now ashamed of him “To be ashamed to be my fathers child.”, Shylock hates any light hearted entertainment, as he closes his windows due to the music from the outside street party.
But after Jessica has eloped with his money and jewels, he hates her enough to say “I would my daughter were dead at my foot, and the ducats in her coffin.” He cannot decide hhis daughter or his ducats.
But in court, not even money can persuade him to show mercy and spare Antonio’s life. “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.”. This shows there is something he wants more than money, this is revenge against the Christians who have “scorned my country”, and he claims have treated him , and Jews alike badly. During the court, Shylock sharpens his knife infront of Antonio who is already petrified. “Why dost thou whet thy knife so earnestly.”. He also puts Antonia down calling him “a serpent.”, this may be a reference to Adam and Eve, where the morphic Satan takes the shape of a serpent.
In conclusion, Shylock may be referred to as “a inhuman wretch”, but he does show he is human side when his daughter deserts him, and his wife is dead, he is left as a old, lonely man, with no money whatsoever . The audience can feel sympathy for shylock for the way he has been treated by the people of Venice.
Also the portrayal of Shylock may offend some people as the image he omits is of a stereotypical , ‘Fagin’ type character character , which is not politically correct, but may have been a popular feeling when this play was written.
The people of Venice do treat Shylock as a social outcast, because of his religious beliefs, In today’s, this would be an infringement of his human rights, In a certain way he was treated completely unfairly, but Shylock did take the revenge issue too far.
The idea of taking a mans live flesh was evil by any standards ; he wanted to seek revenge on the Christians for several reasons. He even chose revenge over money, the thing he cherished so much. He is eventually punished for his crime, and given a rather harsh punishment. He loses his religion which he so strictly practised.
After assessing Shylocks behaviour, I feel he was treated badly by Venitian society, but he took his revenge too far. “Shylock is far from being a blackhearted monster…while there is much cruelty and evil in him, there is equally a good dose of suffering humanity”. In my own person opinion Shylock is a victim of Venetian society. I think society made him evil, but he was driven by his ideas of revenge.