Was Shylock a Victim or a Villain?

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Was Shylock a Victim or a Villain?

        The Jews have unfairly endured extreme persecution for thousands of years, because of their strong beliefs. The Jews lost their own country to the Romans, and had to move out. They have not had an official country until recently, and had to settle down in tight-knit communities, in foreign countries. Their racial prejudice towards them was caused by their intelligence, hard work and success in business in conjunction with their hate for keeping up their customs and religion. Another reason for their loathing is because they can be used as a scapegoat. They are a convenient group to single out and blame for troubles. Hitler, like many totalitarian dictators before him, needed to divert blame for his nation’s problems by ascribing them to an innocent victim. He randomly selected the Jews as his scapegoat and launched a massive campaign against them to alienate them from mainstream German society. He succeeded in his efforts, and as a result, the overwhelming majority of Germans came to hate Jews.

        Two thousand years ago, the Jews lived in a country now called Israel. Unfortunately for them, the Romans had succeeded to take over their land. The Romans let the Jews have religious freedom at first, but later tried to abolish the Jewish faith and country, in a process called ‘Diaspora’. This led to Jewish communities living all over the world. Their hatred towards them can be understood, because of their differences to the Christian faith.

          Today, there is still quite a lot of racial hatred towards the Jews. One example is the Palestinians. They live in a country next to Israel, called Palestine and attack the Jews regularly. The Palestinians are Arabs and have strong views against the Jews.  

        The first scene where Shylock appears is Act 1 Scene 3, where Antonio and Bassanio ask Shylock for the loan. It is clear in my opinion, that their relationship is quite bad, and has tension between them. Even though Shylock is plainly plotting his revenge on the Christians,”Be nominated for an equal pound/Of your fair flesh, to be cut off and taken/In what part of your body pleaseth me.” I think that most people still sympathise with him, because of Antonio’s bullying and name calling, and also taking his money lending business just for the sake of it, by lending money free of charge. I think this makes Shylock appear more like a victim in this instance. His bullying isn’t fair because in my view, Shylock is just a man who is trying to run a successful business. Antonio’s bullying isn’t provoked, and is unneeded. By reading just this quotation, in my opinion Shylock’s behaviour later on in the play is somewhat understandable.

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        In Act 2 Scene 2, Launcelot delivers a soliloquy. Because this is a part where the character speaks to the audience by himself, usually the speaker is honest. Launcelot insults Shylock calling him a “kind of devil” and wants to run away from him, or to be ruled by a “fiend” forever. He then says that he is the “devil himself” and “the devil incarnation”, which are anti Semitic insults. I think that this is quite extreme for a Jew to insult another Jew with anti Semitic insults. This suggests that Launcelot deeply detests him. Because we know Launcelot is ...

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