Sympathizing With Shylock At The End Of Act 4 in William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice
Throughout The Merchant of Venice the extent to which the reader
sympathises with Shylock is constantly adjusted, formed by the most
recent facts and circumstances learned of. After only a few words the
impression given of Shylock is one of a sly, cunning, suspicious man;
he openly admits (to the reader/viewer) that he hates Antonio 'for he
is a Christian.' We then learn of possible justification for this view
and yet Shylock still agrees to lend him the all of the requested
money. After this, Shylock loses a servant (to a Christian) then loses
much of his money with his only daughter (again to a Christian), but
again there is evidence of possible justification. He learns of the
unlikelihood of his owed money being repaid by Antonio and people
continue to mock Shylock for his losses, so he seeks his revenge,
condemning Antonio to death. He claims religious justification and
that he is simply following the 'example' set to him by Christians.
Before anything else, Shylock is a Jew in a predominantly Christian
city. Members of the two faiths dislike each other (largely due to
historical disagreement), and at this time in history it is hardly
surprising that the Christians take advantage of their numerical
supremacy. In the street they openly mistreat Shylock by spitting and
swearing at him because there is nothing to stop them. It is quite
possible that he would have been spat upon and sworn at whatever his
status and personality, and would certainly have been disliked by the
vast majority of Christians. Today this is obviously considered very
wrong and racist so we feel naturally sympathetic towards Shylock.
However, Shylock agrees to lend Antonio the three thousand ducats he
wants anyway, free of interest. This favour may be seen as a simple
gesture of good will, a way for Antonio to become indebted to him
(assuming the money is repaid) or, if it is not repaid, the more
sinister reason of Shylock wanting Antonio to have to pay the penalty
- originally, Shylock claimed, chosen 'in a merry sport,' or in good
spirit - a pound of Antonio's flesh to be cut out at Shylock's choice.
The first two of these reasons would add to our sympathy; the third
would possibly indicate an almost evil side to a Jew seeking revenge
on the people he hates.
Shylock's loss of his servant Launcelot to a Christian does not add
any great feelings of sympathy towards him, but does perhaps add a bit
to the understanding of Shylock's entire anti-Christian attitude, and
also possibly indicates that Shylock's household is not an enjoyable
place to work. The elopement of his daughter Jessica with a Christian,
however, generates mixed...