Shylock in William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice
One of the most interesting and dramatic characters in ‘The Merchant
of Venice’ is the rich, despised money-lending Jew Shylock.
It is impossible to judge Shylock’s character by our own modern
Standards, simple because Shakespeare wrote this play for play goers
in Elizabethan times. This was very different to modern times for two
Firstly, people watching the play would not find it strange to feel
sorry for a character, then a few moments later, to be screaming for
Secondly, nearly everyone in Shakespeare’s time was racist, and it was
common for people to dislike Jews and think of them of villainous.
I think that Shylock is both a villain and a Victim. Shakespeare
purposefully meant Shylock to be as villainous and victimised as
possible, to make the play as dramatic as he could and the most
emotion from the crowd.
In the ‘Merchant of Venice’, Shylock’s character holds the key to a
great tragedy. According to Aristotle’s theory of tragedy, there must
be ‘the fall of the great man’. Shylock is greatly respected within
his tribe, is very rich and looses all that he has at the end of the
The audience’s knowledge of Jews would have been mostly from Marlowe’s
play; Jew of Malta. Also, they would have known about the trial and
execution of Ruy Lopez, a Portuguese Jew. Lopez was convicted of
trying to poison the queen. The audience would have been racially
motivated by to hate Jews. Shylock would have been seen as a villain,
because he was a Jew. Shylock was also a money-lender who prospered
from his trade, which made the audience hate him even more.
Christianity was the main religion in England at the time, and all of
Shakespeare’s audience would have been Christians. Christians were
prohibited by their religion to lend money at interest. As a result,
they despised a Jew making his fortune though usury. Shakespeare has
made Shylock as villainous as possible. His reasons for this is clever
and well thought out. Shakespeare once said that his ambition was to
“Stop the groundies cracking their nuts.” This means that he wanted
his plays to be so interesting that they would capture the ‘grounds’
(standing audience) attention and stir their emotions, so that they
stop cracking their nuts, which happened at the most plays when
grounds lost interest.
Jews were looked down upon and treated pitifully, and in ‘The Merchant
of Venice’, anti-Semitism is commonly spoke, even in front of Jews.
“Suff ‘rance is the badge of our tribe.” This is spoken by Shylock to
“You call me misbeliever, cut-throat dog,
And spit upon my Jewish gabardine.”
This is also by Shylock to Antonio.
Solanio, Antonio and Lancelot also speak offensively about...