Shylock in William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice
Shylock is in many ways much more difficult for us to deal with today
than for Shakespeare's audience. We have seen a hatred for the Jews
since Shakespeare's time with Hitler's attempt to wipe out the Jewish
race, but people in Shakespeare's day were unlikely to have met Jews
who had not converted to Christianity as they had already been banned
from England for three hundred years. So people in England would be
opposing the character Shylock because they are ignorant of the Jews.
Jews had always been seen as a problem in the Middle Ages and had been
practising Judaism privately and secretly giving the impression that
they're scared and cautious of their religion, not being tolerated in
Throughout the last two thousand years, into the twentieth century,
Jews have been the victims of random pogroms. For instance, the
crusaders, who sought to rid the holy land of infidels in the middle
ages, murdered Jews and pillaged Jewish property whilst travelling to
the Middle East.
Racism still exists today and in 'The Merchant of Venice' through the
sufferance and rogue character of Shylock.
Shylock is portrayed as both a victim and a villain. His character is
ambiguous - he is portrayed as both a stereotypical Jew: vicious and
cunning, and also as a fastidious, compassionate person who deserves
our sympathy. His role is very complex.
At the beginning of the play, we find out that Shylock has suffered
lots of abuse at the hands of the Christians, particularly Antonio.
Antonio publicly humiliates Shylock and criticises him about the way
he lends money, which suggests he is a victim. This is demonstrated
when Shylock says to Antonio:
'Signior Antonio many a time and oft
In the Rialto you have rated me
About my moneys and usances:
Still I have borne it with a patient shrug,
For sufferance is the badge of our tribe.'
This evokes sympathy for Shylock because of the way he is tormented
and humiliated, but does nothing. He doesn't stand up for himself, and
this suggests he is a victim.
Shylock is frequently a victim of anti-Semitism and racism from all
the Christians in the play. The victimisation is shown when Antonio
has spat on Shylock's Jewish gabardine, which is a Coat traditionally
worn by Jews, and also has spat on his beard. Both are symbols of
Shylock's religion, and it must be very hurtful and degrading for him.
Solerio and Solanio constantly mock torment and make fun of Shylock's
religion throughout the play. This is shown when Solanio says:
'As the dog Jew did utter in the streets:
My daughter! O my ducats! O my daughter!'
Here, they are laughing at Shylock's obsession with money, and the
fact that he has lost his daughter Jessica because she has eloped with