Shylock - Victim or Villain?

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Bryan Tan                11P

Merchant of Venice – Shylock, Villain or Victim?

In the Merchant of Venice, which is written by William Shakespeare, Shylock is presented in a variety of ways. For instance, some people regard Shylock as a villain, as he demands a pound of flesh. However, other people regard Shylock as a victim, as he loses everything (such as his ring, his daughter who ran away, and being made to convert to Christianity). The history on Jews is perhaps maybe the reason that that Jews are treated so badly, and perhaps the reason for the Christian’s distaste towards all Jews, including Shylock.

Shylock is first introduced to the show when Bassanio and Antonio come to his help to lend money. Our first impressions of Shylock are villainous, as he says “I hate him, as he is a Christian!”. Also, he mutters “If I can catch him once upon the hip, I will feed fat the ancient grudge I bear him!” which indicates that if Shylock has any chance to destroy Antonio, he will choose that option, without hesitation. The effect of using the word “I” makes the action very personal, and portrays a very directed and vicious verbal attack. Antonio also indicates that Shylock is a villain, because he says “the devil can cite Scripture for his purpose, An evil soul, producing holy witness”which gives the impression of a villainous Shylock to the audience. When Shylock names the terms of the bond, he is states it in a very villainous way. This is seen in “…Of your fair flesh, to be cut off and taken In what part of your body pleaseth me.”, which is a very harsh and cruel bond, and which could indicate Shylock’s desire for revenge.

However, he can also be seen as a victim, because of a number of things which he is described as. Firstly, Antonio is stated to have taken Shylock’s business away from him, as well as lower the interest rate which is bad for business, as seen in “He lends out money gratis” and “Brings down the rate of usance”. Also, Shylock describes how Antonio “hates our sacred nation” which indicates very strongly that Shylock has done nothing wrong to get on Antonio’s bad side. Antonio also calls Shylock “Misbeliever, cut-throat dog” which is a very inappropriate term to use. Shylock also tells how Antonio “spat on [him]…” which is suggests that Shylock, and indeed all Jews are hated, and shunned. This line increases the sympathy that the audience has for Shylock, as his race is being mocked.

Shylock is seen as very villainous, as seen in the way he treats his servants, and the way he treats his daughter as a slave, instead of a daughter. This is shown when he refers to her as “My Jessica!” which suggests to the audience that he is impatient with her, as well as does not treat her correctly, and regards her as a possession. This might be the reason that Jessica eventually decides to revolt. In this light, we see him as a villain, for thinking of treating his own daughter as a possession. Also, Launcelot paints a very bad impression of Shylock by saying “My master’s a very Jew” which means that Shylock is a demanding master. He also says “I am famished in his service:” indicating that Shylock treats all his servants very badly, leading to malnutrition, giving the audience the impression of as a villain to his servants. In another passage, Jessica says “Our house is hell” and  is “ ashamed to be [her] father’s child!” pointing toward Jessica dismissing her own flesh and blood as a “merry devil” casting Shylock in a very bad light, and showing him as a very bad parent towards Jessica. So the repetition of “devil” portrays Shylock in a very negative light.

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Also, Shylock is shown to have cared about his money more than he cared about his daughter as seen in : “my ducats, and my daughter! A sealed bag, two sealed bags of ducats, of double ducats, stol'N from me by my daughter!” which gives the impression that Shylock cares about the money that his daughter stole, rather than the reason her daughter ran away. This casts Shylock in a bad light as this shows that he doesn’t care for his daughter as much. “And jewels, - two stones, two rich and precious stones…” indicate that Shylock knows more about ...

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