Shylock In William Shakespeare's Othello Essay

2744 words - 11 pages

Shylock in William Shakespeare's Othello

The Jews ancestral home-land, where they had lived for hundreds of
years was Palestine. However, they were exiled from this land in about
the year 400 AD. They scattered out and formed a Diaspora, a community
of exiled people. Once the Roman Empire had deteriorated, a lot of
them began to make their way back to Palestine, which was then invaded
by the Turks, and ruled by them for 800 years until the British came.

The Jews came over to Britain with William the Conqueror in 1066, and
in 1217 they had to wear yellow badges to distinguish them. They were
heavily discriminated against and were blamed in murder cases often
involving Christian children, leading to many Jews being executed. In
1269 their rights were restricted; they couldn't own land and they
were made unable to inherit anything. In 1290 the Jews were expelled
from Britain and were disallowed for 350 years. Many plays were
written about evil Jews. The Merchant of Venice was written by William
Shakespeare although he had never met a Jew in his life, he doesn't
seem to portray Jews in his play as evil as a lot of them in plays in
his time.

I don't think Shylock can really be defined as either a hero or a
villain, because this seems, to me, to immortalise him. A hero is
someone who constantly strives, sometimes against everything else, for
good, and a villain is someone who intentionally causes evil for his
own selfish purposes and doesn't care for anyone else. If the title
was 'Shylock: Good or bad?' then I would say that throughout the play
that he is probably more bad than good, however, I don't believe that
this proves him to be a villain. To really get a clear idea of this I
looked through the different points of the play and found evidence
both for and against Shylock.

First of all, having read the play and looking over it all, it's clear
that Shakespeare doesn't seem to have written him as purely a villain
or purely a hero, he is portrayed, simply, as a human. A human, who
like millions of others, seeks revenge, wants justice fair rights and
has basic needs too. I think, for someone who has never met a Jew, and
who's grown up in the majority of society saying Jews are evil,
Shakespeare has created a very open minded characterisation.

Shylock's story begins when he's just starting to snap; all of his
life has been a struggle. Not only have his fellow Jews and ancestors
been persecuted for their religion, but so has he. The Christians have
made it so that he can only do one job, then they slander him for
charging interest and making a profit. In our first meeting with
Shylock and Antonio together, Shylock complains that Antonio always
insults him, spits on him and dismisses him. Antonio says:

'I am as like to call thee so again, to spit on thee again, to spurn
thee...

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