Shylock in William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice Shylock has been very badly treated by certain Christians and he
yearns for revenge. He goes too far when he seeks the life of his main
persecutor, but he is essentially, an intelligent, dignified man who
can no longer bear to be humiliated.
Long before Shylock plotted against him, Antonio seemed to take a
pride in spurning Shylock, treating him in public with rudeness and
contempt. This type of behaviour appears to contradict with the rest
of his character. You would imagine that such a man would
instinctively shrink from insulting anybody so grossly, but Antonio
seems proud of it and tells Shylock that he will probably abuse him
again, 'spit on him again and spurn him, too'.
In 'The Merchant of Venice', Shakespeare does not treat Shylock as
simply evil for evil's sake. He makes him human. Shylock has good
reason to resent Antonio. He says:
'You call me misbeliever, cut-throat dog,
and spit upon my Jewish gabardine,
and all for use of that which is mine own,'
When Shylock shows a seeming kindness to Antonio he takes it as a sign
that 'The Hebrew will turn Christian: he grows kind'. Kindness in a
Jew is beyond Antonio's conception.
Christians alienate Shylock simply because he is a Jew. In ancient,
medieval, and Renaissance times, Jews almost always encountered
prejudice from non-Jews around them. Scholars are divided on whether
Shakespeare, in The Merchant of Venice, was attempting condemn
anti-Semitism by sympathizing with Shylock or approve of anti-Semitism
by ridiculing Shylock. It may well be that Shakespeare was simply
holding a mirror to civilization to allow audiences to draw their own
conclusions contends that Shakespeare wrote The Merchant of Venice to
condemn the moral and ethical values of errant Christians, not the
Jewish moneylender Shylock. Throughout the play Shylock's name is
overlooked and rather than being called by his name he is referred to
as "the Jew". The fact that Shylock is being alienated (by being
classed as "the Jew") underlines the social deprivation of Jews at the
time the play was written. In England, when Shakespeare was writing,
Jews had been banished for the past 300 years. Shakespeare's audience
would not have known any Jews; their knowledge of Jews would have been
based solely on rumour and prejudice. They would have enjoyed the
verbal insults and racist jokes against Shylock, and would probably
not have questioned the treatment Shylock receives as we do today.
During the period of time the play was written, audiences would have
preferred Shylock to be the villain of the play, as in a pantomime