Shylock: Victim or Villain?

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James Wilson        08/05/2007

Shylock: Victim or Villain?

A key feature of the play ‘The Merchant Of Venice’ is the issue of whether Shylock is a victim or a villain. This issue is raised at many crucial points most of which can be separated into the categories victim or villain.

        Act 1 Scene 3 displays Shylock as a sensible business man. This is our first introduction of Shylock and therefore produces our first impressions. The first point where Shylocks’ character is revealed in detail is during his soliloquy of lines 37 – 48. At this point Shylock gives an aside to the audience which no character can hear. We learn a lot about Shylocks’ behaviour toward Antonio and Christians in general. This shows a man who wants revenge and who is desperate to get his own back, as the text says; ‘Cursed be my tribe if I forgive him!’ This shows that Shylock feels it his duty to his nation (the Jews) to seek revenge on Antonio. This entire speech displays Shylock as a villain, a heartless man who is not willing to forgive.

        During Act1 Scene 3 our feelings toward Shylock change dramatically. Shylock is portrayed as a villain until the point where Antonio enters. Antonio does not treat Shylock with any respect despite the fact that he is asking for a favour, this causes us to feel sympathy toward Shylock and he suddenly becomes less villainous. We begin to wonder why Antonio acts this way, when making the decision of the bond Shylock stalls and delays frequently, in order to plot his terms of the bond. This shows his villainous side and how much he wants to get Antonio. When Shylock has stated the terms his attitude changes and he then tries to hurry the bond into confirmation. This shows how he is desperate to get Antonio, again reinforcing his villainous attitude.

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        The next turn of events is during lines 102-123 we begin to feel sympathy for Shylock. The reasons for his villainous attitude toward Antonio become clear. We learn of the treatment imposed on Shylock by Antonio, the text says, ‘spit upon my Jewish gabardine’ we begin to empathise with Shylock and we see him as a victim to Christian prejudice.

        When we realise the poor treatment of Shylock by Antonio we are greeted of a speech by Antonio’s. To our surprise, Antonio does not apologies for his actions, instead saying he is likely to repeat his actions, the text ...

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