"Shylock is a two dimensional villain who does not deserve our sympathy" To what degree do you agree with the statement?
The above statement makes two main assumptions about Shylock. One is that Shylock is a two-dimensional villain, a man who is a stereotypical, one-sided man with no true motive for his actions. This assumption also implies that Shylock is extremely superficial, an supposition that we strongly disagree. The second assumption is that Shylock does not deserve our sympathy as although he is not superficial, what he has done has outweighed all senses of morality. In this, we agree to a certain extent only.
Pertaining to the first assumption, Shylock is not a one-sided, superficial villain but has actually two sides: one of a comic villain that invokes our dislike, and the other as the helpless victim of the Christians. Most of the time, Shakespeare portrays Shylock as cruel and mean, the most striking example being Shylock's reaction after his discovery of Jessica's eloping with an enemy and the theft of his belongings. His seemingly pure hatred of his daughter can be seen from `"I would my daughter were dead at my foot and the jewels in her ear!" Act 3, Scene 1. This portrayal of a Jew for Christians and readers to rightfully ridicule and hate is further emphasized when Shylock laments about his money along with his daughter, as can be seen from `My daughter! O my ducats! O my daughter! Fled with a Christian! O my Christian ducats! Justice! The law! My ducats and my daughter! (II.8.15-17)'. This implies that Shylock views his daughter and his money at equal value, perhaps even preferring his money over his daughter as implied by the first quote. This fuels readers to further hate Shylock for his lack of love for Jessica.
Another striking example that portrays Shylock as a typical villain who is cruel is in Act 4, Scene 1, where time and again, Shylock turns down all offers of money for his revenge on Antonio. This can be seen from "My deeds upon my head! I crave the law, The penalty and the forfeit of my bond." Act 4, Scene 1. Even after Portia pleads for mercy for Shylock to rip his bond and grant mercy to Antonio, Shylock refuses, making himself seem cruel and unmerciful. Shylock's bloodthirstiness is further emphasized later in the scene when Bassanio asks "Why dost thou whet thy knife so earnestly?" Act 4, Scene 1, to which Shylock replies, "To cut the forfeiture from the bankrupt there." Act 4, Scene 1. Through these words, Shakespeare makes Shylock seem eager to kill and unmerciful even with so many Christians pleading with him and money as a reward to boot. His thirst for revenge gives readers a further reason to hate him, and a justification for the Christians to mock and insult him.
However, at the same time, Shylock also knew love before, and loved others. This can be seen from "It was my turquoise. I had it of Leah when I was a bachelor. I would not have given it for a wilderness of monkeys." Act 3, Scene 1. Here, we can see that Shylock loved Leah, his possible wife, dearly, and would not have given up the semi-precious, and therefore, not very expensive ring, for even the most expensive thing on earth. The quote also downgrades Jessica in our eyes, who without a second thought had betrayed her father's last connection to his past life and her own mother in exchange for a monkey. The lost ring allows us to see Shylock in an uncharacteristically vulnerable position and to view him as a human being capable of feeling something more than anger. Although Shylock and Tubal discuss the ring for no more than five lines, the ring stands as an important symbol of Shylock's humanity, his ability to love, and his ability to grieve, and shows us a side with deep emotion, a characteristic that a two-dimensional character does not have.
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Another example that Shylock's actions can be justified, and shows us that he is in fact no better or worse than the Christians in what he does, is his famous speech in Act 3, Scene 1, where he says, "I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? Fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winder and summer as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die?" Act 3, Scene 1. Here, Shylock gives the ultimate evidence that he is in fact, as human as the Christians, and if the Christians cannot be considered two-dimensional characters, neither can he. As even the readers begin to passionately hate this seemingly evil character, Shylock turns around and confronts readers of their morals. What he says is not just a plea for racial tolerance, but also his defense for his revenge on Antonio. Here, Shylock is placed in a sympathetic light, and shows himself as a victim of racism instead of the villain who wants Antonio's life.
Thus, on the first assumption, I conclude that Shylock is not a `flat' character, but a three-dimensional character who too feels deep emotion and is not a stereotypical evil villain. In the play, Shakespeare effectively portrays him as an extremely complex character, one who bleeds and laughs in the same way as the Christians, and is both a heartless villain, and an ostracized victim.
As to the second assumption, Shylock is said to not to deserve any sympathy. The argument stated above that Shylock is in fact also a victim of racism and is unfairly judged by the Christians also makes him deserving of sympathy. However, although like any other he deserves sympathy for the many misfortunes of his life, the many evil deeds he committed must also come into play, where the amount of sympathy that the character deserves is only to a certain extent.
As a victim, Shylock was betrayed by his daughter, lost one thing he held dear (the ring), and is actually no better than the Christians. The prejudice by the Christians against him is further emphasized in "In the Rialto, you have rated me about my money and my usances...You call me `misbeliever' and `cut-throat dog', and spit upon my Jewish gabardine." Act 1, Scene 3. Through this, we can see that Shylock is not only called names and spit upon, but this is done in public by Antonio. The way in which Shylock is treated is even worse than how animals are and the fact that Antonio, a high-ranking person in his community, actually does this almost arrogantly where all the other merchants normally gather, reflect his deep hatred for Shylock. Yet, throughout the book, there are no references as to why Antonio actually hates Shylock, besides the fact that Shylock is a Jew and he charges high interest to earn enough to survive, as can be seen from "He hates our sacred nation, and he rails-" Act 1, Scene 3. This almost meaningless hate puts the Christians in a negative light, and once again reflects Shylock as a victim whose actions are justified. This is further emphasized when Antonio answers with "I am as like to call thee again, to spit on thee again, to spurn thee too." Act 1, Scene 3. The tone in which Antonio answers this is almost in arrogance, and Antonio seems proud as to what he has done. It also implies that Antonio is a hypocrite, placing him in a more negative light, as he is going against his own religion, one which he holds higher than Shylock's.
Shylock also deserves our sympathy as by the end of the play, he has nothing left but a meaningless, wasted life to live. This can be seen from, "So he will let me have the other half in use, to render it, upon his death unto the gentleman, that lately stole his daughter. Two things provided more: that for this favour, he presently become a Christian; the other, that he do record a gift here in the court of all he dies possessed." Act 4, Scene 1. As can be seen, he had already lost his money and his daughter, but at the end of the court scene, his fortune is given to the Christian with whom his daughter had eloped with, and he also loses his religion, which he values more highly than money, as can be seen when he decided that revenge was more important than reclaiming the ducats from Bassanio. He also loses his dignity, as can be seen from "Down therefore, and beg mercy of the Duke." Act 4, Scene 1. Shylock came into court, expecting to walk away with his shame avenged but ends up losing everything, including his religion and his dignity, and his very life itself, as as Shylock says, a meaningless life is not worth living. This can be seen from, "Nay, take my life and all...You take my life when you do take the means whereby I live." Act 4, Scene 1. However, he is ignored and he loses everything while the `hero' of the story, Bassanio, ends up with riches, a beautiful wife and his enemy dead. His portrayal as the helpless victim who can say nothing more but "I am content." Act 4, Scene 1, in defeat and resignation, causes readers to feel pity for him.
Another reason why Shylock is deserving of pity is the fact that he has no friends, whereas Antonio seems to have so many who try to comfort him when he is upset. This can be seen from "No satisfaction, no revenge, nor no ill luck stirring but what lights o' my shoulders, no sighs but o' my breathing, no tears but o' my shedding." Act 3, Scene 1. Yet, Tubal, his `friend', answers with "Yes, other men have ill luck too." Act 3, Scene 1, in a tone that seems almost uncaring. The lack of anybody in the play that seems to care for Shylock is striking, and contrasts with Antonio, as mentioned earlier. The pity felt seems therefore deserving. Yet another note would be the biasness of the duke against Shylock even before the trial started, and how Portia led Shylock on before threatening him with everything had owned. The duke's unfairness can be seen from "Thou art come to answer a stony adversary, an inhuman wretch, uncapable of pity, void and empty from any dram of mercy." Act 4, Scene 1. As the scene continues, the duke seems almost to be threatening Shylock when he says "We all expect a gentle answer, Jew." Act 4, Scene 1. Portia's bluff also crushes Shylock severely, bringing his hopes up with cries of "Why this bond is forfeit, and lawfully be this the Jew may claim." Act 4, Scene 1, before threatening him with "Thou diest, and all thy goods are confiscate." Act 4, Scene 1. In this way, Portia also seems to be a hypocrite, speaking that "The quality of mercy is not strained." Act 4, Scene 1, yet, not telling Shylock outright that he will not be able to gain his revenge but leading him on before taking away everything that he had left, which is precious little. Besides putting the Christians in a further negative light, it also allows us to feel more pity for Shylock, who everyone in the story, besides Tubal who remains neutral, is actively against.
Shylock is portrayed as an evil and greedy villain yet though Antonio seems to be a generous man, lending his money to close friends, other Christian characters are not. We say that Shylock is a greedy man who loves only money but Bassanio, one of the Christian characters, admits in the first act that he is in debt because he lives off of loans from others. He says "How much I have disabled mine estate/By something showing a more swelling port..." Act 1, Scene 1. His greed is of an even grosser nature than Shylock's because he satisfies it through irresponsible means--borrowing without repaying, "To you, Antonio, I owe the most in money and in love..."Act 1, Scene 1. He even seems to be marrying Portia due to her wealth. He explained to Antonio as to why he should attempt to win Portia was because of money. He says, "In Belmont is a lady richly left..." Act 1, Scene 1. He then goes on to discuss her other virtues, but it is her wealth which has obviously caught his attention. Lorenzo also seems every bit as concerned with Shylock's money as he is with Jessica herself. He explains the plan to Gratiano: "She hath directed/ me how I shall take her from her father's house/ What gold and jewels she is furnish'd with" Act 2, Scene 4. Therefore, we cannot accuse Shylock of being guilty of greed without also pointing out the same guilt in these Christian characters. The Christian characters are no better than Shylock yet it does not seem to be a bad thing for them to be greedy. Shylock deserves our sympathy also as even his own daughter rebels against him and took away all his money.
When Salerio questions Shylock's desire for revenge, Shylock points out that he is not at all unlike a "good Christian" in his endeavors. He points out to them: "If a Jew wrong a Christian, what is his humility? Revenge. If a Christian wrong a Jew, what should his sufferance be by Christian example? Why revenge. The villainy you teach me, I will execute, and it shall go hard but I will better the instruction." Act 3, Scene 1. This statement immediately follows Shylock's argument that Jews bleed, laugh, and die in the same manner as Christians. This argument states that it is a common human trait to seek revenge on those who have done one wrong. Although Shylock has an arguably unhealthy thirst for revenge, we can relate with what he is feeling because it is a natural human flaw to want to avenge when you have been done wrong. Shylock's passionate speech evokes our sympathy. Shylock makes us feel sorry for him because he shows that the Christians' racism is really affecting him. He is saying that Jews are human just like Christians and he is trying to justify his want for revenge on Antonio, by saying that Antonio has wronged him. This portrays Shylock as a victim of racism and deserves our sympathy for losing everything he has in the end.
However, Shylock was also undeniably evil in what he did. Besides his seeming hatred for Jessica and his desire for revenge, there is the unforgettable fact that since the start of the story, Shylock has been scheming for Antonio's death. This can be seen from "Let the forfeit be nominated for an equal pound of your fair flesh, to be cut off and taken in what part of your body pleaseth me." Act 1, Scene 3, when the bond is first negotiated. By Jewish religion, although to uphold the honour of one's tribe is probably important (Cursed be my tribe if I forgive him! Act 1, Scene 3), killing is probably not encouraged while Shylock does not seem to have any hesitation in what he does as proved above when Bassanio asked Shylock why he was whetting his knife so earnestly. Shylock's desire for revenge in the form of cold-blooded murder against a man who only spit and kicked him seems unfounded and unfair, as Antonio did not actually threaten Shylock's life. In this, Shylock is portrayed as heartless and undeserving of any pity, as he himself would render none to Antonio, who is christened throughout the play as the perfect example of a good Christian man.
Shylock's seemingly unfounded hate is also revealed when he tells the audience "I hate him for he is a Christian, but more, for that in low simplicity. He lends out money gratis and brings down the rate of usance here with us in Venice." Act 1, Scene 3. His reason for hating Antonio seems superficial and childish, almost unimportant. Shylock hates Antonio, he says, because Antonio is so generous as to lend money out for free and thus, has such good morals. This would question the reader's own morals is the reader were to pity Shylock. It seems nonsensical that Shylock hates Antonio for being generous and having better qualities than him. The other possible explanation would be that Shylock hates Antonio because Antonio is denying Shylock his livelihood. This in itself is also without ground, since Shylock was proven to be rich as can be seen from "Two thousand ducats in that, and other precious, precious jewels." Act 3, Scene 1, and does not actually need the money but only wishes to add to his wealth as he views it as extremely important.
Another example to further emphasise Shylock's lack of love and trust for Jessica is "Perhaps I will return immediately. Do as I bid you, shut doors after you." Act 2, Scene 5. Shylock's lack of trust implies that he has spent little time with Jessica and they are not very close. Besides reflecting that Shylock was not a very good father to Jessica, it also seems to imply that Jessica is like a possession that he does not want to lose, much like his diamonds and ducats and worth no more than that.
Shylock's view that money is extremely important is also further stressed in "My meaning in saying that he is `a good man' is to have you understand that he is sufficient." Act 1, Scene 3. While Bassanio interprets `a good man', as a person who is kind, generous and follows the Christian faith, Shylock's interpretation is one who has enough money such that if the bond is forfeit, he would earn much in return. This further emphasizes Shylock as a money-loving villain, who views wealth above some of the more important parts of life.
Thus, pertaining to the second assumption, while Shylock deserves sympathy as he is a victim of racism and marginalisation, his unfounded and unneeded crimes must also be taken against him, and he does not deserve too much pity.
Concluding this essay, we firmly believe that Shylock is a three-dimensional character capable of deep emotions with more than one side to him, and deserves pity as the victim of the marginalisation by the Christians but not too much as he too committed unspoken crimes that the Christians did not commit.