Shylock in William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice
The Merchant of Venice, a tragic- comedy written in the late 16th
century by the greatest known English author, William Shakespeare.
This is a tale set in the heart of Venice, amongst the Venetian
Christians and Jews. The history of the Jews is marked by terrible
hardship and atrocities; Jewish people kept up their customs and
religion formed tight knit communities and became known for their
intelligent hard work and business expertise. These qualities
sometimes led to them being mistrusted and resented in the community
of Venice in those times. This was especially the case in Christian
countries, where there were strong anti- Semitic feelings. The
greatest suffering for the Jews was endured during the Nazi domination
of Europe during the Second World War and some time before. Six
million Jews lost their lives during this terrible time; a period of
history known as the Holocaust. This appalling cruelty began with the
casual everyday racism, which Shylock also has to endure from the
Christians of Venice. Due to the terrible atrocities Jewish people
suffered during World War Two and centuries of persecution before
that, modern-day pragmatics are very sensitive to language usage that
perpetuates the construction of Jewish identity that could incite
anti- Semitism; hence Shylock’s problematic place in literary history
as a villain or victim.
Shylock is one of the most confusing characters in all of
Shakespeare's plays. On the surface, he is a villain only concerned
about money and revenge. Some critics, however, argue that Shakespeare
takes this "stereotypical" Jew much further, making him a complex
character whose sufferings at the hands of racists motivate his anger.
While Shakespeare gives no definitive answer as to how Shylock should
be viewed, he does make important points in support and in denial of
In relationship to the Merchant of Venice and Shylock’s character, is
another partially similar play otherwise known as the ‘Jew of Malta.’
Written by Christopher Marlowe, (produced in the 1590 and published in
1633) it is a play filled with blood and murder, also favourite topics
of the Elizabethan audience, who embraced the bloody revenge
tragedies. The image of the Jew ‘Barabas’ in the play is a greedy
usurer, who would rather be a hated, envied and ill-treated Jew than a
poor Christian. This was a common image to be portrayed in the English
theatre of a Jewish person.
The play starts with, Bassanio, a Venetian nobleman who seems to have
financial difficulties; however he wishes to compete for the hand of
Portia, a wealthy heiress of Belmont, in order to restore his fortune.
He asks his best friend Antonio, a successful merchant of Venice, to
loan him the money necessary to undertake such an...