Shylock victim or villain?

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Shylock victim or villain?

There have been many variations over the hundreds of years in how the character Shylock has been played in productions of “The Merchant of Venice” by William Shakespeare. Shylock is often noted as the most important character in the play, so the way he is performed can change how people interpret the play itself.

Shylock can be interpreted as the villain or the victim of the play. Sometimes in productions the audiences’ sympathies can swing first one-way then another, the actor will portray Shylock as a consistent character however; certain scenes create sympathy for him.

Racism is a key issue in the play. Both the Christians and the Jew (Shylock) indulge in racist acts towards each other. Shylock admits at his first appearance that he hates Antonio because of his beliefs, “I hate him for he is a Christian” this is not a valid reason to hate someone and would illustrate Shylock as a villain.  In some people’s view Shakespeare has created philosophical characters, Shylock - evil, Bassanio - loving and Antonio- self-sacrificing. Antonio was in some ways willing to sacrifice his life so that his best friend could have a happy one.  This is an allegory with Christianity, Jesus laying down his life, reinforcing the Christian message. However there are many incidences where Shylock is the victim of racial banter e.g. puns of gentile. “If you prick us do we not bleed… if you poison us do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?”  Here Shylock is saying that Christians and Jews are both human and deserve to be treated the same.  In the scene of Antonio’s trial, the Duke, who should be impartial is very obviously biased towards Antonio and doesn’t feel the need to conceal this.  We do not feel pity for Shylock here because he is causing so much pain due to his hatred of the Christians this makes us perceive Shylock as a villain.

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The way characters behave shows what they are really thinking. Shylock can be quite devilish at times in act 1 scene 3 where he pretends to joke about the pound of flesh; Antonio believes he is jesting and falls into Shylock’s trap.  This pretence enabled Shylock to manipulate Antonio with his careful selection of words, which instead of making him angry, as he was earlier in the scene, lulled Antonio into a false sense of security. “Why fear not man, I will not forfeit it.” This shows that there is no doubt in Antonio’s mind that he will not fail ...

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