'Shylock deserves our sympathy, not our hostility.' To what extent do you agree with this statement?

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Literature Essay

‘Shylock deserves our sympathy, not our hostility.’

To what extent do you agree with this statement?

Use evidence from the text in support of your answer.

Shylock is indeed a complex character and has the dimension of pain-he has suffered, still suffers and is one of a people who have suffered over centuries. However, to what extent should Shylock suffer and does he deserve our sympathy or hostility. Although anti-Semitism is totally unacceptable today, it was quite normal in Shakespeare's time. However, as he has done with other villains, Shakespeare actually plays around with his audience's preconceptions and makes Shylock an interesting, complex and sometimes likable character.

Being a Jew in Christian dominated Venice, Shylock is persecuted by society. He is the victim of popular Christian prejudice, which scorns his religion and restricts his means of employment. He is left with no choice but to be a moneylender and earn his money from collecting interest. To the Christians, collecting interest was against their teaching. This is one of the reasons for the Christians hatred.

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In Act III scene I Salanio and Salarino confront Shylock, mocking him about his daughter's deception and insulting him. Shylock explains why he will take Antonio's flesh, making his famous speech, 'I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions?' This is where Shakespeare evokes our sympathy, by making us realise how Shylock has suffered because of the prejudices of the Christians around him.  He explains his motives for revenge in a rational way, showing how his actions are no different from the Christians'. Look carefully at the language he ...

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