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The role of Shylock in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice and comment on whether you believe that he is a villain or victim

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Venice was seen as important Mediterranean trading centre, an exotic location for an Elizabethan audience. Venice was run by a Duke, who ruled with an iron fist. The Christian leaders were keen to quell the activities of the Jews, and so created one of the first Jewish ghettos, forcing the Jews to live in a particular area were they would be isolated. Through their hard work and consequent successes in business, Jews were often resented in their new homes, especially in Christian countries. Jews were looked down upon as second-class citizens in an Elizabethan community.

Going back to the time of the crucifixion of Christ, Jesus was rejected and crucified at the assistance f a mob. Due to the anti-Semitism and prejudice Jews had been dejected and persecuted from society and forced to become usurers. It is my intention to examine shylock through out the play and decide whether or not he is a villain or a victim f society. As Shylock is introduced in act 1 we know that Shylock is going to be a victimised character, a man who will be seen as a second-class citizen as he is a Jew.

Shylock has a strong dislike for Christians simply because for many years’ people of the same class had been suffering by the open hand of christens “I hate him fir he’s a Christian. ” Particularly his despise for Antonio is unlike any other. He emphases the fact that he is ruining people, like himself down on business and he always has the upper hand. “He lends out money gratis, and brings down the rate of usance here with us in Venice. ” However it is clear to see from this quote that his real dislike for Antonio stems form a business point of view.

Just as much as Shylock hates Antonio, Antonio feels the same way about Shylock. He is extremely prejudiced against Shylock. Shylock declares hatred for Antonio yet addresses him deferentially. Antonio is open about his distaste for him and admits calling him a “misbeliever and a cut-throat dog” and spitting on him “Spit upon my Jewish gabardine. ” And he says he “would do so again. ” He uses he most vile and violet language against him. In his anger he’s surprised by Shylocks offer of friendship and risks the penalty of a pound of flesh as he believes he still has his bats and his religion o make sure it doesn’t happen.

Moving on Jessica has her own opinion on her father but one that’s not expected. She states, “Our house is hell. ” She uses a metaphor one that states, she doesn’t like her father and represents him as a devilish figure. She doesn’t say, “is like hell” but “is hell. ” This emphasises her feelings much more and makes a much harsher image of her home and father. As a result of this Elizabethan audiences would have softened towards Jessica and being more accepting of her as she wants to convert to Christianity. Making a stronger implication that the house is hell.

We can tell that she hates her father more than anything as she is ashamed to be his own flesh and blood, “what heinous sin it is in me to be ashamed to be my father’s child. ” She openly admits that she’s ashamed to be her fathers child and ashamed to be associated with him. She believes that it’s a sin shows implication that she’s ashamed of being a Jew, making a more negative impact on Shylock. She steals from him, runs away for the love of her life and disguises herself in order to escape. She wants to end her strife and this is her plan.

She’s disgusted of being a Jew and being her father’s child. Elizabethan audiences would’ve welcomed her decision and so viewed her father as the villain. Up until this point in the play Shakespeare presents Shylock as a complex character, negative and his desire for money. Shakespeare uses his technique as a dramatist to dramatically change our opinion of Shylock. He uses his ability to heighten our feelings towards him since his passionate speech is cleverly introduced and turns out to be one of the most elegant speeches in the play.

Through out his speech Shylock highlights the degree of anti-semitic feeling that existed in Elizabethan times so our sympathy for him is aroused. “Thwarted my bargains, cooled my friends, hated mine enemies-and what’s his reason? I am a Jew. ” Shakespeare is able to heighten our feelings towards Shylock with quotes such as this and with another word turn it around. “To bait fish withal: – if it will feed nothing else, it will feed my revenge. ” The audience’s reaction to this at the time would have detested Shylock even further.

He creates a very strong image but as he expresses himself we soon understand him and learn more about him. The speech is full of passion and questions but we get the sense that Shylock already knows the answers. The use of reputation of the word revenge tells us how unreasonable things are, “If a Jew wrongs a Christian, what is his humility? Revenge! ” Shylock is trying to express his different views to humanity, as the speech ends our sympathy for Shylock is at its highest through the power of Shakespeare’s ability as a dramatist.

Our views soon change about him, and through certain words and his language we soon learn how serious the situation is between him and Antonio and how easy it can be sorted. Form the beginning Shakespeare is highlighting the degree of anti-semetic feeling that used to exist in Elizabethan times and through this speech his power created sympathy, new feeling towards Shylock. Shylock has made this a very passionate speech, which appeals to the humanity in everyone. The second half of this scene shows us another dramatic twist in Shakespeare’s representation of Shylock.

This man who we had great sympathy for before is once again presented in a very negative manner; he once again becomes a stereo-typical image of the money leading Jew. The anti-semetic feelings within 18th century audiences would have been heightened once again. His last speech is immediately forgotten about as he soon speaks with such anger and hatred. As the scene continues, within a matter of minutes Shakespeare uses his ability to heighten the audiences feelings once again towards Shylock.

A man who we utterly feel sorry for, a man who we felt that was equal to everyone else easily becomes the old Jew he once was. He talks about his own daughter, his own flesh and blood with much anger and his feelings intensify for her. “I would my daughter were dead at my foot; would she were hearsed at my foot, and the ducats in her coffin. ” At this point Shylock latterly wishes death upon her as her betrayal became a problem. As he finds out about Antonio’s misfortunes he suddenly becomes over-whelmed with such glee, “What, what, what. ”

“Is it true, is it true,” “good news, good news. His use of reputation in these words accentuates his satisfaction; they show how excited he is at this time. As soon as Antonio’s misfortunes are mentioned Shylock immediately brightens up, from this he would receive prophet and his bond is now becoming more reality than a come true. The 16th century audiences would have thought very negatively of his as they were Christian and him a Jew. Shakespeare provides his creation with words; he is now made out to be the typical villain of the play.

“I am very glad of it-I’ll plague him, I’ll torture him-I am glad of it. Reputation is used again at this particular point. This quote creates a negative imagery of Shylock and with Shakespeare’s technique he allows the audience to change their opinion of what they think about him and turn the situation around. Shylock wants the bond as he becomes more obsessive of Antonio, “I will have the heart of him if he forfeit. ” He is highlighting that nothing can possibly get in his way from getting his revenge. I believe that Shakespeare was hoping to evoke sympathy from the audience by using his skill as a dramatist, as he has the ability of doing so.

In the course of this he is hoping to defeat the idea of prejudice and not have people judge others by their religion but by their character. Before we get to the main climax of the play, just before the trial we can she how the relationships between Antonio and Shylock have been reversed. “Hear me yet, good Shylock. ” Now we can see that Antonio is pleading to him. The word “good” is highlighting that this man is trying to appeal to Shylock’s better nature. “I’m praying thee hear me speak. ” Up until this point the audience would never had felt more sympathetic for Antonio as he is grovelling for freedom.

Again Shylock is thought to be “The dirty old Jew,” as there is no chance that he will never break his bond. Shylock begins to become more dismissive and now has full control of the situation. Shylock is highlighted as a man full of hatred who has his heart set on getting revenge. He is constantly dehumanised as he is no longer worthy as a human being. “But since I’m a dog, beware my fangs. ” “It is the most impenetrable cur. ” This shows further imagery of dehumanisation. Shakespeare also as a dramatist put every technique to possible use and at the right time, “My bond, my bond, my bond.

Reputation of the word “my bond” emphasises that there’s no chance that Shylock is going to back down and he is determined to get what’s his. At this stage Shylock is presented almost like a child as he demands for his bond, “my bond, my bond. ” The traits of his character are rapidly laid down and repeated, focus on his bond, pride in Jewish identity. Our attitude to Shylock varies sharply. We recoil from his expressed hatred, but as we look back at his treatment we sympathise and understand why he wants his bond so much but an Elizabethan audience would react differently.

They would despise him for wanting to harm a Christian and their disgust would kill sympathy aroused by “If you prick us do we not bleed. ” He resolutely refuses to listen to all the pleas for mercy during the trial scene, insisting all the time or justice and his pound of flesh. His bond becomes a mere obsession at this stage. I believe that Shylock is both villain and victim as he is about to commit murder but only because of prejudice and anti-semitism of his society which makes him a victim. Shylocks performance at the trial is dominating, obsessive and dismisses with contempt all pleas for mercy and offers of money.

During this scene a great deal of hatred and prejudice is directed towards Shylock “Go one call the Jew into the court. ” The word Jew is constantly used as it emphasises that he is not worthy a name, “we expect a gentle answer, Jew! ” Not only does Bassanio or Antonio have terrible feelings towards him but also the great Duke himself. The scene is set in a court of justice, were Shylock believes he will achieve what’s rightfully his. The Duke is a figure of justice who is biased in favour of Antonio, “an inhuman wretch, void and empty.

This quote highlights the anti-semitic feeling and explaining that Shylock will never receive justice, which he is there for. The Dukes attitude towards Shylock is very biased. He’s a figure of justice in favour of Antonio as he’s a Christian and deserves no threat of body loss from a second-class citizen. The Duke clearly highlights his hatred for Shylock as he’s referring to him as Jew. ” Gorone, call the Jew into the court. ” Referring to him as Jew states that he is not worthy a name. Not once did he refer to Shylock as his own name which is clearly emphasised.

Shylock meets his match in Portia, and when he is surprised, outwitted and prevented from taking his revenge the audience at the time would have rejoiced. Our feelings sway as we watch Shylock trying to save 9000 ducats then 3000 ducats, then his dignity. At the stage were Shylock is most confident he believes that someone is on his side and without a doubt he will get his bond. But Portia brilliantly turns the situation around and has him trapped exactly were she wants him. “If thou lost shed one drop of Christians blood, thy lands and goods are confiscated onto the state if Venice. Now this is the most appalling part of the scene.

At this stage only everyone can listen as they now understand blood will shed if this merchant takes a wound but take the pleasure in seeing him fail, simply because of the prejudice and anti-semetic feeling in Elizabethan times. Gratiano at this point is over-whelmed and as a result mimics Shylock, “O upright judge- Mark, Jew – o learned judge! ” The exclamation marks in this sentence show that he is now the one, who is excited, overjoyed and he is the one who is determined to have the last word, in fact throwing Shylocks own words back at him.

Not yet will Shylock be humiliated but confused because at the beginning he was so close, had the upper hand but is now so far away from success, Portia has him “on the hip. ” Shylock tries to leave, but is told that he must face the penalty for attempting the life of a Christian. “Down therefore, and beg mercy of the Duke. ” He is told to knee for mercy, and a kind of mercy is extended to him. He says, “I’m content” telling us that he just wants to escape, he knows he’s lost ad is understanding of it.

The different reactions of all characters Portia, Gratiano and Antonio cause a modern day audience to think about justice rather than character however a Elizabethan audience would have been delighted to see Shylock fail as he had the upper hand but his whole plan back fired on him. Shylock leaves quickly, unwell and we are made to think what happens to him. His life is ruined, humiliated in cause of revenge. Broken down at this point his stature would be heartbreaking, becoming so close to a dream and was not aware of what was happening at that present moment.

As the play ends Shylock, a man who was so confident, who believed that he could achieve what he desperately wanted, to man who owns nothing. Is no more the one thing that was mostly important in his life, a Jew but now a Christian. He is seen to be a villain by Elizabethan audiences as they were prejudiced towards Jews but seen to be a victim by other modern day audiences, but I believe that Shylock is equally both. For instance he was willing to kill an innocent Christian for not paying debts, so this makes him a villain.

However he says “the villainy you teach me I will execute, and it shall go hard but I will better the instruction. “fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, cooled and warmed by the summer just like a Christian is. ” These words make me believe that this man is a victim, makes me feel sympathy for him as he is just as equal as everyone else but is treated like a second-class citizen only because he is a Jew. He emphasises his humanity and the prejudice he suffers from but we need to remember he is as equal as anyone else but is seen a villain because he wanted to take a Christians life. But his reasons make us understand why.

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