Shylock in William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice
William Shakespeare wrote The merchant of Venice in the Elizabethan
period. It was written as a play and this is reflected in the
exaggeration of some of the scenes. At the time the play was written
anti-Semitism was common, this again is reflected by the attitudes of
the characters. In theory at the time this play was written only Jews
who had converted to Christianity were allowed in England at the time.
This may be one of the reasons it is set in Venice.
Lancelot Gobbo describes Shylock as the very 'devil incarnation'.
Weather this is true or not it establishes the Christian's diabolical
view of Shylock as evil, this view is repeated throughout the play by
almost all the main characters.
This is reflected in the relationship between Antonio and Shylock.
Antonio is a merchant who works hard for his money sending vessels all
over the world. Shylock lends money to people and lives off the
interest he charges. These contrasting jobs cause resentment between
the two. The fact that Shylock is a Jew and Antonio is a Christian
transforms this resentment into hatred;
'I hate him for he is a Christian. But more so because in low
simplicity he lends out money gratis.'
Act 1 scene 3 lines 34-36
The fact that Antonio's friend Bassanio wishes to borrow money from
Shylock fires up the anger between them. We learn that Antonio has
spat on Shylock and called him a 'dog.' Because Antonio has refused
friendship with Shylock Shylock fells obliged to
'Feed fat the ancient grudge I bear him.'
Act 1 scene 3 lines 38
This imagery shows us that anti-Semitism is steeped in history. It
also gives us an insight into how deep the hatred runs.
The Duke, the figurehead of Venice and one of the most vital people in
the trial scene describes Shylock as an
'Inhuman wretch, incapable of pity, void an empty of any dram of
Act 4 scene 1 lines4-5
Although the Duke is obviously being biased to his fellow Christian he
is implying that Shylock will enjoy torturing Antonio. He is showing
that he believes that Shylock is evil. Antonio supports his viewpoint
when he compares trying to stop Shylock to trying to stop a 'flood' or
'Forbid the mountain pines to wag their high tops.'
Act 4 scene 1 lines 75-76
The use of such powerful imagery by Shakespeare makes the audience
believe that Shylock really is incapable of mercy.
In the trial scene Gratiano creates a picture of Shylock as evil and
inhuman by describing him as
'Starved Wolfish, bloody and ravenous.'
Act 4 scene 1 line 138
Although through Gratiano's eyes this is an evil way of behaving I
think Shakespeare meant there to be another side to this metaphor. A
wolf only kills so that it can feed and survive....