Shylock In William Shakespeare's The Merchant Of Venice

3559 words - 14 pages

Shylock in William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice

Shylock's character in Shakespeare's 'The Merchant of Venice' has long
been a controversial subject- more so now than it was when the play
was written in the late 16th Century. First performed in 1605, it
seemingly conforms to the anti-semitic stereotypes towards Jews and
their conduct but, unlike Shakespeare's rival's work ('The Jew of
Malta) by Christopher Marlowe, the main Jewish character is attributed
not only the negative traits associated with Jews at the time, but
also a side that sees to show humanity. Therefore, in this essay, it
is my aim to explore whether calling Shylock the villain in the play
is justified or not based on his actions and those of the characters
surrounding him (to see if there is evidence of provocation), and
placing this into the context of Elizabethan England and thus coming
to conclusions abut whether views towards the extent of his villainy
have remained the same.

The one single action in the play which seems most convictive of
Shylock is his argument with argument over the lending of 3,000
ducats-and the penalty fixed in case of its late return in Act 3 scene
1. The very notion of imposing such a brutal penalty seems to us
shocking in its severity and absurdity, but, of course, Shylock's
reasons for setting it must also be taken into account. It can also be
argued that it was Antonio's right to refuse it, and so Shylock's wish
to fulfil the terms of the contract cannot be classed as murder.
Antonio agreed to it, and he was fully aware of the implications.

Antonio asks of Shylock the loan of 3,000 ducats. Shylock is a
moneylender by profession, and this is a fact that would have been
significant to an Elizabethan audience watching the play, as Shylock
charges interest on his loans, something that they would have
undoubtedly despised but which we see no wrong in today. The fact that
Antonio lends money to others too, but does not charge interest on it
seems to be merely a clarification of Shakespeare's desire to show the
difference in the moral standards of the two characters- Shylock is
made to seem petty or even greedy (one of the seven deadly sins) in
comparison to Antonio's magnanimity. However, to me, Antonio appears
arrogant, and this is especially visible in Act 1 scene 3 when the
bond is set and we have Bassanio to compare him with.

It is clear from the outset that, to Shylock, this is not merely
another transaction- this is clear from the fact that, at first, he is
reluctant to agree to it because of whom he would be helping by it
(Antonio):

'Fair sir, you spit on me Wednesday last,

You spurned me such a day, another time

You called me a dog; and for these courtesies,

I'll lend you thus much moneys?'

It is also clear from the fact that Shylock does not...

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