Shakespeare's Presentation of Shylock in The Merchant of Venice
This essay is an analysis of how the character of Shylock, in the play
'The Merchant of Venice', is presented to the audience, by
Shakespeare, in different ways.
The riveting play shows the best and worst aspects of human nature and
contains one of Shakespeare's most reviled, complex and compelling
characters. Love and romance end this play, yet before that come
bigotry, racism, hatred, death threats and money-especially the money.
The dramatic courtroom scene and Shylock's cruel downfall will
challenge your heart and your sense of justice.
Shylock is a successful Jewish moneylender, who is filled with bitter
words for the Christians, much prejudiced over his own religion and
the practice of moneylenders, such as himself, of charging interest.
Shylocks of the past and present have been portrayed in different ways
on screen and in the theatre. He has been played by Anthony Sher, John
Woodvine, Ralph Richardson, Dustin Hoffman, John Gielgud and Barrie
Rutter. Each of the actors has tried to show him in either his best or
his worst possible light.
In some interpretations of 'The Merchant of Venice', the technique
that the directors use is to cut a lot of Shylock's original lines to
make him seem less harsh and more undeserving of all the hatred that
the people around him give him constantly. In most cases, the
intensity of the performances, of the actors playing Shylock, go
towards getting his character across to the audience.
In the play, religion seems to be inextricably connected with business
Shakespeare puts Shylock in a bad situation as soon as his character
is introduced. As the play progresses, so does Shylock's run of bad
situations, which are sometimes self-inflicted.
Well, firstly, he is a Jew living and working in Venice. Venice was a
hostile, highly materialistic, predominantly Christian society, in
Shakespeare's time; people were unlikely to have met a Jew that had
not already converted to Christianity.
Secondly, he is a moneylender, who earned profit through usury. Usury
was despised of by all other moneylenders (who all seem to be
Christian). Money lending was a contentious issue and it was
considered not fair or moral to loan money, expecting the initial
amount to be repaid with a large interest on top of it.
Thirdly, he is nearly always contradicting himself. He is...