Audience's Response to Shylock in William Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice
As the opening scene of the third Act opens, Solanio and Salerio are
used as a chorus by Shakespeare to inform the reader of the events
that will be discussed in the scene. News is learnt of Antonio's ships
"wreaked on the narrow seas" (Line 3). With this comment, Shakespeare
instantly prepares the reader for the entrance of Shylock, who
embodies danger throughout the play. As Shylock enters, both the
reader and Solanio know "what news amongst the merchants?" as this
refers to the elopement of Jessica. Even though the reader has yet to
see Shylock since the elopement, we know that his anger will have been
fuelled by the fact that a Christian has stolen his daughter, as well
as his ducats. Immediately after the mention of Antonio, Shylock
states to "Let him look to his bond" (Line 44), and without question,
the reader realises that Shylocks true intentions for Antonio.
However, Solanio and Salerio fail to comprehend this, as question,
"Thou wilt not take his fresh. What's that good for?" (Line 47), which
is replied to with "If it will feed nothing, it will feed my revenge"
(Line 49). At this point, both the reader and the Christians now see
the truthful and avenging Shylock, who is now presented as a revenge
filled man, who's now only passion is to punish Antonio for the
Christians stealing his daughter and his ducats.
Additionally, the malicious digs and insults from Solanio and Salerio
spark Shylock's hatred, to produce one of Shylock's most dramatic
speeches since the start of the play. It is written in prose, but
Shakespeare creates huge intensity through a series of accusing and
rhetorical questions. "I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes?" (Line 56) and
"If you prick us do we not bleed?" (Line 61). This speech is a plea
for tolerance and is also the prelude to Shylock's final decision
concerning how he will deal with Antonio. Shylock speaks of a
Christian "humility" with heavy sarcasm. He claims that humility is a
virtue Christians talk of but a virtue that they are unwilling to use.
Shylock claims that the humility of a Christian stops when a Christian
is harmed, and then a Christian takes revenge. Shylock then produces a
chilling and justified statement to the Christians, stating, "the
villainy you teach me I will execute" (Line 69). Shakespeare ensures
that the reader does not sympathise entirely with Shylock, as he may
have been wronged, but he lacks the mercy that he requested. However,
the fact he was originally restricted from this mercy can also provide
justification for his actions. But even as we recognize that Shylock's
plans are terribly wrong, we can appreciate the angry logic of his
speech. At this part of the scene, Shakespeare doesn't...