GCSE English Literature Coursework
The Merchant Of Venice
With close reference to the text, explore how Shakespeare presents the character Shylock in ‘The Merchant Of Venice’ and examine how the character could evoke sympathy of a modern audience.
I will be exploring how Shakespeare presents the character of Shylock in ‘The Merchant Of Venice’ by using close reference of the text. I will also examine how the character of Shylock could evoke sympathy of a modern audience.
Throughout ‘The Merchant Of Venice’ there is a clear separation between Christians and Jews. This separation has been outlined throughout history. Christians and Jews have antagonised each other because of their beliefs. All arguments stem from the fact that Christians and Jews believe different things about Jesus.
Christians believe that Jesus was the son of the god and that he sacrificed himself in order to save humanity from sin. Whereas Jews believe that Jesus wasn’t the messiah and that when the messiah comes it will take them to the promised land of Zion.
The clear anger between Christians and Jews in 'The Merchant Of Venice' can be traced back to the event of the Holocaust. The Holocaust took place between 1941 and 1945. It was the extermination of more than 15 people including Jews. The event of the holocaust was what caused the anger between Christians and Jews.
The occurrence of the Holocaust could evoke sympathy with a modern audience, as they are more likely to sympathise with Shylock who is representing the Jewish tribe. A modern audience is likely to sympathise with a Jewish character, as they know what the Jews went through during the Holocaust so they will feel sympathy for the character.
During 'The Merchant Of Venice' sympathy is lost and gained by Shylock who represents the Jews. I am going to explore where and how this sympathy is lost and gained throughout Act1 Scene3, Act3 Scene1, and Act4 Scene1.
First I will look at how sympathy is lost by shylock then I will look at how Shylock gains sympathy in each scene.
At the start of Act1 Scene3 shylock loses sympathy of the audience when he says to Bassanio:
“Oh, no, no, no, no: my meaning in saying he is a good man is to have you understand me that he is sufficient”
This quote shows that Shylock is a typical Jewish stereotype by putting money above everything else. The word “sufficient” points out the importance of Antonio have “sufficient” money that shylock can take. This portrays Shylock as being selfish and greedy therefore losing sympathy with the audience.
When Antonio enters the scene, Shylock makes a comment aside, to the audience. He says:
“How like a fawning publican he looks, I hate him for he is a Christian, But more for that in low simplicity he lends out money gratis”
This quote alludes to the fact that Shylock doesn’t like Antonio, not just because he is a Christian, but because he “lends out money gratis” which means without charging interest. Again this is showing shylock as a typical Jewish stereotype losing sympathy with the audience.
Also in the speech he makes aside to the audience Shylock states that:
“If I can catch him once upon the hip, I will feed fat the ancient grudge I bear him”
This statement again, will cause the audience to lose sympathy with Shylock as he is showing his evil side. Shylock is saying that if he gets the chance to kill or harm Antonio then he will. Does the word “fat” imply something that will occur later in the play?
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Near to the end of the scene Shylock shows his evil side again by talking about Antonio’s forfeit. He says:
“Be nominated for an equal pound of your fair flesh to be taken in what part of your body pleaseth me”
This quote shows that Shylock wants to take flesh from Antonio instead of taking money as the forfeit. The word “pleaseth” shows how sick he is being pleased at taking flesh from Antonio’s body therefore losing sympathy with the audience.
Although all these quotes point to the fact Shylock loses sympathy with the audience, there are parts of Act1 Scene3 where he gains sympathy from the audience.
The first point where sympathy is gained is at the beginning of the scene where Bassanio asks Shylock to dine with him. Shylock replies:
“I will buy with you, sell with you, talk with you, walk with you, but I will not eat with you, drink with you nor pray with you”
The words “you” show that there are more Christians than Jews on the stage. This creates sympathy for Shylock, as he can’t mix with Christians. This shows social segregation.
Later in the scene Antonio talks to Shylock about what Shylock is really like, he says:
“The devil can cite scripture for his purpose. An evil soul producing holy witness is like a villain with a smiling cheek. A goodly apple rotten at the heart. O what a goodly outside falsehood hath!”
This speech talks about how Antonio thinks Shylock is putting on a false front saying he may look kind but he is “rotten at the heart”. Also he calls Shylock a “devil”. These things can create sympathy for Shylock as he is being called names that may not be true.
Just after Antonio makes this speech Shylock makes his own speech. Some of the things that create sympathy for shylock in this speech are:
“For sufferance is the badge of all our tribe. You call me misbeliever, cut throat dog and spit upon my Jewish gabardine”
“You that did void your rheum upon my beard, and foot me as you spurn a stranger cur”
“Hath a dog money? Is it possible a cur can lend three thousand ducats?”
“Fair sir, you spit on me Wednesday last; you spurn’d me such a day; another time you called me dog, and for these courtesies I’ll lend you thus much moneys?”
All these quotes show how Shylock has been treated in the past. He has been called “misbeliever”, “cut-throat dog” and had his “Jewish gabardine spit upon”. Shylock asks Antonio why he should lend him money. This shows how intelligent Shylock is. The audience will see how Shylock has been treated and will sympathise with him.
The last comment made in this scene where Shylock would gain sympathy is at the end of the scene. Antonio is replying to Shylock after Shylock has talked about the times Antonio had ridiculed him. Antonio replies with:
“I am as like to call thee so again, to spit on thee, to spurn thee too”
This reply shows that no matter how much Antonio has called Shylock in the past, he would do it again. Therefore Shylock will never stop getting called thus resulting in Shylock gaining sympathy from the audience.
From analysing the quotes I have taken from Act1 Scene3, I think that in this scene there is more evidence of Shylock losing sympathy with the audience. Although we learn and sympathise with Shylock about the treatment he has had in the past, he is cruel, cold-hearted and evil by wanting to take someone’s life therefore I don’t sympathise with Shylock in this scene.
I will now study Act3 Scene1 and write about the parts where Shylock loses and gains sympathy from the audience. Firstly I will look at how he loses sympathy.
Shylock starts to lose sympathy when he enters the scene. His daughter has run off with a Christian and Shylock isn’t happy. He says:
“She is damned for it”
“My own flesh and blood to rebel”
These two quotes show how angry Shylock is at his daughter for running off with the man she loves. He shows the audience how selfish he is. Again, showing a typical Jewish stereotype, putting him before others. This creates a loss of sympathy from the audience.
About half way through the scene Shylock is talking about the disappearance of some of his jewels to Tubal. He says:
“I would my daughter were dead at my foot, and the jewels in her ear!”
This shows Shylock as a typical Jewish stereotype. He would rather have his jewels than have is daughter. This would cause loss of sympathy from the audience, as Shylock is being cold-hearted and selfish.
Towards the end of the scene Shylock loses sympathy with the audience when he says:
“Thou stickest a dagger in me: I shall never see my gold again”
This again makes him look like a typical Jewish stereotype. He is being selfish and only thinking about his money not the fact he will never see his daughter again. Thus losing sympathy with the audience.
At the end of the scene Shylock is talking about Antonio to Tubal. This is the last point on this scene where he loses sympathy. He says:
“I will have the heart of him”
This relates to the fact that Shylock wants him dead. It may also give reference as to where the pound of flesh (the forfeit) will be taken from.
I will now study the areas in which Shylock gains sympathy from the audience in this scene.
Before Shylock enters the scene he gains sympathy from the audience when Salanio talks about him. Salanio says to Salarino:
“Lest the devil cross my prayer, for here he comes in the likeness of a Jew”
This quote gains Shylock sympathy as he is being called a “devil” and is referred to as a “Jew”. This is an example of religious prejudice, as they are not calling him by his proper name.
Just after Shylock enters the scene he is asked what the latest news is. Shylock’s daughter has run away with a Christian but Shylock knows the news is all around the town. He replies with:
“You know, none so well, of my daughters flight”
This quote creates sympathy for Shylock as his daughter has ran away with another man and everyone knows. They are making fun of him, this creates sympathy from the audience as he is being teased.
Part way through the scene Shylock makes a very important speech that increases his gain of sympathy by a very large amount. His speech is about social and religious equality. Here are some quotes that contribute to the gain of sympathy:
“He hath disgraced me, hindered me half a million, laughed at my losses, mocked at my gains, scorned my nation, thwarted my bargains, cooled my friends, heated mine enemies, and what’s his reason? I am a Jew”
“Hath a Jew not eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, senses, affections and passions?”
“If you prick us do we not bleed? If you tickle us do we not laugh? If you poison us do we not die? And if you wrong us shall we not revenge?”
“If a Jew wrong a Christian, what is his humility? Revenge. If a Christian wrongs a Jew, what should his sufferance be by Christian example? Why, revenge”
These quotes show Shylocks argument for equal rights. The first quote is stating the fact that he has been “laughed” at, his nation has been “scorned” and his gains have been “mocked”. All this because he is a Jew. The second quote sows how Jews are just like anybody else. They “bleed when pricked”, “laugh when tickled” and “die when poisoned”. The only difference is their religion. This quote creates sympathy for all Jews as it shows how everyone is the same but gets treated differently because of their religion. The fourth quote from this speech is stating that Shylock thinks the rule for revenge for wronging a person should be the same for all religions. Again showing Shylock’s argument for social and religious equality. This quote creates sympathy, as the audience feel sorry for shylock as he gets treated unfairly because of his religion.
All these quotes will create sympathy for Shylock as he is arguing for social and religious equality. This gains sympathy as the audience see that although Christians and Jews are the same in body, Jews get treated differently because of their religion.
After studying this scene and the quotes I have taken from it I think there is more evidence of sympathising with Shylock in this scene. Sympathy is lost when Shylock shows his evil side when talking about his daughter but the important speech that Shylock makes in this scene shows the importance of religious and social quality. Therefore I sympathise with Shylock in this scene.
I will now study the text of Act4 Scene1 and will look at the areas where shylock loses and gains sympathy. I will start with looking where Shylock loses sympathy.
At the beginning of Act 4 Scene 1 the characters present are asking Shylock why he is taking Antonio’s flesh. When asked this question, Shylock replies with a speech. One of the quotes from this speech that loses Shylock sympathy is:
“But, say, it is my humour: is it answer’d?”
This quote loses Shylock sympathy because he is saying that he taking Antonio’s flesh for fun and just because he wants to. The audience will lose sympathy with Shylock as taking flesh from a person’s body is seen as inhuman.
Later on in Shylock’s speech about why he is taking Antonio’s flesh, Shylock states that:
“More than a lodged hate and a certain loathing I bear Antonio, that I follow thus a losing suit against him. Are you answer’d?”
In this quote, Shylock is saying that he is taking Antonio’s flesh because he hates him and loathes him, this would lose sympathy for him with the audience because, again, he is acting inhuman.
Further on in this Scene when Antonio is about to have his flesh taken, Bassanio decides to risk his own life for Antonio’s. He says:
“Good cheer, Antonio! What, man, courage yet! The Jew shall have my flesh, blood, bones and all, Ere thou shalt lose for me one drop of blood.”
This quote will lose sympathy for Shylock as Bassanio is showing homoerotic undertones, Shylock is ruining someone’s relationship, thus causing the audience to lose sympathy with him.
Another area where Shylock loses sympathy is later on in the scene, when the conditions of the bond are being agreed, Portia who is disguised as a doctor of laws suggests that Shylock has a surgeon on stand incase Antonio bleeds to death, Shylock replies with the comment:
“ I cannot find it, ‘tis not in the bond.”
This quote will lose Shylock sympathy as he will not agree to have a surgeon standing by as he doesn’t want Antonio to be saved, this is cold-hearted and the actions of a murderer, thus causing loss of sympathy.
The last comment that is made in this scene causing the audience to lose sympathy with Shylock is when Bassanio reveals homoerotic undertones again. Bassanio says to Antonio:
“I would lose all, ay, sacrifice them all Here to this devil, to deliver you.”
This quote will cause loss of sympathy for Shylock as he is braking up a relationship and the audience will view this as being evil and uncaring.
Although there are many points in Act 4 Scene 1 where Shylock loses sympathy with the audience, there are also parts where Shylock gains sympathy with the audience. I will study these now.
The first point at which Shylock gains sympathy with the audience is at the beginning of the scene when Bassanio calls him:
This causes the audience to gain sympathy with Shylock as he is being called names and is being classed as a typical Jewish stereotype.
Later on in the scene Antonio makes a comment that gains Shylock sympathy with the audience. He compares Shylock to several things. These are:
“You may as well use question with the wolf. Why he hath made the ewe bleat for the lamb; You may as well forbid the mountain pines To way their high tops and make no noise”
This comment makes the audience sympathise with Shylock as he is being compared to an animal. The audience will sympathise with him because it is not fair, calling him names and comparing him 2 a killer.
Towards the end of the scene, Portia who is disguised as a doctor of laws is going through the rules of the bond. One of the things she says is:
“In the cutting it, if thou dost shed One drop of Christian blood, thy lands and goods Are, bye the laws of Venice, confiscate unto the state of Venice”
This comment causes the audience to sympathise with Shylock because if he does not follow the rules then he will lose his land and all his belongings.
The last quote from the play where Shylock gains sympathy is when he is asked to sign the deed, he says:
“I pray you, give me leave to go from hence; I ma not well: send the deed after me, And I will sign it”
This quote creates sympathy as it is alluding to the fact that he is too ill to sign the contract and physically not able to stay in court. This creates sympathy, as the audience will feel sorry for him, as he is not well.
After studying the quotes I have taken from this scene, I think there is more evidence of not sympathising with Shylock. We learn about how he is too ill to stay in court and how he nearly lost all his belongings yet he was still going to go through with killing Antonio and I think that is cold-hearted and cruel. Therefore I do not sympathise with Shylock in this scene.
After studying the text thoroughly and taking into account the quotes I have chosen to support both sides of the argument I have come to the conclusion that I do not sympathise with Shylock in this play. He has shown that he can kill an innocent person all because he doesn’t like their religion and I think he is cold-hearted and a killer. However, I do sympathise with him when he is being called names by the other characters, as I don’t think it is fair to call someone just because of their religion. Although there are times when I sympathise with Shylock in this play, overall I do not sympathise with him because I don’t like his actions he takes against other characters because of their religion.