Victim? Or Villain?
In this essay I aim to show the truth about Shylock, if he is a victim or villain of his religious prejudice. As a Jew, in the play Shylock is the victim of racism, at this time, it is the 1500s so Jews were persecuted most of the time. In the play “The merchant of Venice” Antonio the Christian won the court battle against Shylock, whereas if Shylock would have won, the crowd watching the play in the 1500s would consider the play to be biased and would throw food as an act of disgrace and anger to the actors. Christians persecuted Jews in the 16-century and even now because they are different in lifestyles and beliefs. To Christians Jews are Aliens. Shylock was probably the only well known Jew in Venice so he got a lot of Anti-Semitism from not only Antonio but others as well, he was very unhappy, yet proud of his faith, so becoming a Christian would be a big defeat, not only for himself but for his faith that he has any control over. Shylock is a victim of his persecution, yet a villain for his revenge, he gets too carried away with reprisal. A Christian stereotype of a Jew is of greed, revenge and of selfishness. And at times he becomes too engulfed in greed and vengefulness and doesn’t stop till he gets what he wants. In this play he becomes too engulfed in vengeance and hatred for Antonio, so he doesn’t bother to notice that his daughter has run away with lots of his money and her mothers jewellery. Because of Shylocks retribution he deserved everything he got, to take Antonio’s flesh would be a very inhumane thing to do. And the readers or even characters would have thought just about he same.
This is which makes it more the reason to hate him, and for Bassanio to avenge his death. When Shylock said in the court case said, “If every ducat out of that 6000 were multiplied by six, I would not take them. I would rather have my bond.” This show how greedy and bloodthirsty he is, even for money that of which he does not have because his daughter stole it. Because of the stereotypical view of a Jew, Antonio might have thought he would take it, but he may not be bothered with money, Shylock may have thought that it is as close as he’d get to killing a Christian so he became carried away. It was Shylocks evilness that got him in the position he was slowly edged into, bankrupt, and converted to a Christian. As I said this course work will explain all his feelings and if he is really a victim? Or a villain?
Victim? Or Villain?
Anti-Semitism in the 16-century was prejudice of the beliefs and religion, Jews like Shylock were persecuted and in the play ‘The merchant of Venice’ Shylock is the villain. If he had been the main good character who succeeds in the end, the crowd and others round watching would consider it biased. At that time Jews were hated for what they believed in, and for a Christian like Antonio to be defeated by a Jew was terrible Nothing much has changed since the 16-century, the Nazis intended to have a super race of super humans therefore eliminating the mistake God made when creating humans. Even now, in Palestine Jews are being victimized, Israel are trying to take land from the Palestine because of the prejudice towards the Jews. So not a great deal has altered since the play was made. The stereotype of a Jew was basic, that they are greedy, vengeful and hate all Christians. This is the reason why Jews like Shylock were ill treated, in the end it will lead people to hate all Jews, and with a play similar to this, when a Jew loses. The spectators would judge this a triumph and a win to all Christians, the spectators and Anti-semantics of the 1600s liked to see a Jew in misery, having lost everything even his beliefs. In the 21st century Jews are treated in most places well, because of civil rights and because people know more about them. The Moors in the play really resemble Barbarians. Bloodthirsty, violent, experts at making a scene and arrogant “By my love I swear the best regarded virgins of our clime.”
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The Moors and the Prince of Morocco in the play are made to look arrogant and to feel above everyone else, snobs really, who stick their nose up at anyone who they feel is a ‘lower class’ to them e.g. a beggar. This quote is from when the Prince is deciding on which casket to choose “All that glitters is not gold;/ Often have you heard that told”?
Shylock in this day and age is considered a victim of his prejudice, as he is the minority he has no one to back him up with his argument. Because he is on his own we feel sorry for him, but it was his own vengeance that got him in the situation he ended up in at the end of the play. In modern society Jews are being accepted in, they have evenly spread themselves over Europe and the rest of the world, and are part of the community, American ‘Nu metal’ band System of a down are Jewish. It is just a few groups of people that feel they should cease to exist, the main reason in the 1600s why Jews were outcastes is because they did not believe in Jesus Christ, and some people say for the reason that the Jews crucified Jesus, that Palestine would be punished by war that will never cease, so Palestine would always be in conflict.
Shylock is the obvious villain in the play because of the prejudice to Christians, but Antonio proceeds to victimise Shylock by spitting on him, and calling him names “You spat on me Wednesday last, you spurred me such a day, another you called me dog.” In theory you could say Antonio might be a villain, with Shylock the minority, it is sad to see him like this. Shakespeare makes Shylock wicked in many ways because of his nature, “Let him forfeit be nominated for an equal pound of your fair flesh, to be cut.” The scene when the bond is agreed is a wicked Shylock when he has a macabre grin on his face while he makes the bond. This is what makes Shylock a funny and interesting character, because he comes out with a load of rubbish, which is really funny and effective. “I am as like to call thee so again, to spit on thee again, to spurn thee too.” This is effective because Shylock while he is the villain he is also the comedian who steals a laugh from the spectators, at the same time being evil and vengeful.
Shylock suffers mental torment because he is always confused by what he is going to do, and the aftermath is usually in Antonio’s advantage, by Shylock becoming too self centred and vengeful towards Antonio and other Christians. The three witches in Macbeth told him he would be the king, Shylock had a vague idea of that, he pounced on Antonio when he least expected it, it was very effective, behind Antonio’s back he planned it. Luckily Portia and Bassanio saved Antonio. Shylock has had the desire to do evil since the beginning of the play and has focused his attention on Christians in particular. The desire to do wicked things probably started because he had been persecuted for so long, he thought it was ‘payback’. When Shylock “If it will feed nothing else, it will feed my revenge!” This quote proves how greedy and manipulative he is. “If you prickle us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us do we not laugh? If you poison us do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?” This quote that Shylock says is saying that Jews or any other race/religion are not any different to anyone else, a quote like this would have made anyone question themselves to what they are going to say next in reply to it. Shylock asides and soliloquies because he wants the audience to feel his emotions of anger or dismay. Also trying to get the audience to see through the bad in him, showing he can be a good, gentle person. Not just a man of immorality and revenge.
Shylock will have reasons for his cruelty to Christians and even to his daughter Jessica, these reasons maybe because of his persecution and victimization, or maybe since his wife died he may have been lonely, and driven mad by his loneliness, to hate all Christians and to become greedy, spiteful and purposely an outcast. The Elizabethans would not have seen it this way, they do not care what is wrong with him, all they care about is he is a Jew, and for that reason he must be persecuted and alienated. In Elizabethan times there was a policy that Jews were to be persecuted even if they were good or bad. Shylock in Shakespeare’s day would have worn all black to symbolise he was a Jew, and so people could spot him and do what was necessary at the time. Nowadays those laws of all black clothes are not necessary, but he most likely will dress as an alien (literally). But he would do his best to stand out and to look untidy maybe unshaven. Shylock will always be distinct in one way or another. He prides himself because of his difference to others. If I were to direct the play Shylock in act 4 scene 1 would enter the court room slowly, glancing left to right to the people either side of him. And I would have him making noises with his boots e.g. the buckle making a clanging noise as it moves as he goes to the witness stand. And using a deep, sinister voice talking to the Duke. In the courtroom, with a knife held in his belt, he moves his robe away to reveal it to the rest of the court. And both of his eyebrows meeting in the middle, in some cases the eyebrows meeting is the stereotype of a school bully, as Shylock it seems very effective. Also shadows underneath his eyes. Or for a shadow to be cast over half of his face, this has a sinister effect for the scene. Dramatic irony is a very good advantage in a play of this sort. It is most effective in a point of the play when something happens or is said to shylock. And then later on he will find a clue to it e.g. when his daughter runs off with Lorenzo.
Shylock is constantly bugged by dramatic irony; in the end it causes him to lose everything, including his religion.
Shylock’s language as a villain is excellent. The words and phrases he uses to describe things are outstanding. “What, wouldst though have a serpent sting thee twice?” These phrases make Antonio and Bassanio think of a good respond to it. “I am very glad of it. I’ll plague him; torture him”. The soliloquies Shylock uses have a strong effect because he is saying ‘I’ not ‘they’ or ‘that’. He tries to get our attention over to him and to forget Antonio, even to forget he is a Jew. It brainwashes us to feel sympathy for him. This is an effective way to get our attention, for a few seconds he gets us to like him. Then he snaps, and we are back to normal. On the trial scene (act 4 scene 1) one reason that Shylock lost was that Portia got the advantage over him, by squeezing evidence, that was really of no use, to getting Antonio off the hook. But Shylocks down fall finally was in view was when he could not fight back with his words, which was what got him winning. He soon lost his grip and ‘bailed out’ leaving Antonio victorious, and not to lose 1 pound of flesh. Shylock was too big headed; this is why he lost the plot.
I liked the Jews’ character, because he seemed very literate, hence being able to speak with a strong, positive accent. It was a shame that this failed, although he had it coming. Really he was too covetous, self centred and pretentious. All these and his grip on revenge brought him down in the end, if he wasn’t too obsessed about the ‘bond’ he may still be a Jew, though it would not have been much of a play if that had happened. I feel that Antonio was the true villain in the play, he had started the trouble with victimizing Shylock, and all the things Antonio had done to him is going to be back-fired. But he had a lucky escape. These are the actions of a real villain, and this is what probably drove Shylocks vengeance. In the end Shylock was forcefully converted to a Christian, nowadays that would not have been regarded as saving his soul, though he would not have been converted anyway. In the 20 century it is entirely free to choose your own religion and own beliefs. In view, in the play Shylock is a strict and firm person, the probable reason for this is in his upbringing, the things that happened while he was a child may have reflected towards his adulthood. Some memories may have stuck with him, things to do with Christians?
I do not feel he had much of a choice in what he did throughout the play, because as a Jew under the pressure that he was under he was right to have revenge. It is things humans have, like a grudge; Shylock had a grudge against Christians, which in my opinion is fair, as he was under this torment. It was not fair that he was fighting the whole of Venice on his own to stay alive. So, to be fair he did deserve to have revenge, but the idea he had in mind, was going to cost him, a lot! Antonio should have not got away with everything; Shylock should have at least been left with some pride (his religion). Shylock the way he did in self-defence, therefore he was right to do so, it was for his own protection and of his faith. But, he became too egotistical and tried to push his luck by trying to kill Antonio, by doing it he jeopardised his life and it cost him. Many people would conclude that Shylock got what he deserved but it was not his fault. We are all human; we are at some time greedy and vengeful. Shylock only wanted to have a life and to have a life. But Antonio was sick of him and took advantage of this.
Certain things lead to another, if Shylock had not lent Antonio the money, Portia would not have married Bassanio, and beet Shylock in the court case, however Shylock would not have been able to rid himself of Antonio, though shylock would still be a Jew otherwise. So really if it had been the other way round Shylock would have been better off. And Bassanio would not have been able to go to Belmont and marry Portia, so to Shylock it would have been an advantage, and he would have left Bassanio in dismay, if I were Shylock (a Jew) I would be happy with that.