The Character of Shylock as a Victim or Villain in The Merchant of Venice
Do you consider the character of shylock to be a victim or villain in
the play The Merchant of Venice?
Shylock is one of the most interesting, memorable and debated
characters in the play “The Merchant of Venice”. In many ways this is
because he is both a victim and a villain.
Shylock was made a laughing stock of and is ridiculed by the
Christians because he was Jewish. The Jewish community in Venice was
treated very poorly at the time that the play was written. The Jews in
Venice were not classified as citizens. They were ridiculed in public,
not allowed to do any Christian jobs and had to live in the ghetto (a
place just for the Jewish community) with walls around it. The ghetto
was locked at night so the Jewish people could not get out. Shylock
was also ridiculed about his job as a money lender, or “usurer” which
was one of the few jobs Jews could do. Since lending money was their
only way to make a living, they had to charge interest. The church
prohibited Christians from lending money, and called it the sin of
usury, but they often needed loans despite this.
The play is set in the trading capital of Venice, Italy because it was
one of the trading capitals of the world at the time. It is in a prime
location for trading, located at the head of the Adriatic Sea, next to
the Balkans and below the mountain paths to Germany. In Venice the
main form of trade and transportation is by sea. Venice has a
spectacular harbour where huge trading ships could exchange gifts and
goods. Trade needs capital, and only the Jews could provide it. The
Jews made the loans but were hated for the interest they demanded.
In the play Shylock is described as a Victim and a Villain. It is
clear he is a victim because of the appalling way he had been treated
and the ridicule he had been put through because of his Jewish faith.
He had also been depicted as a Villain in the way he expressed hate
and loathing towards Antonio, repeatedly showing him no mercy and
indirectly and directly wanting to kill him.
Shakespeare’s audience knew that King Edward I had expelled the Jews
from England in 1290. In addition, they knew that, one of Queen
Elizabeth’s doctors, (a Portuguese Jew, called Lopez), was accused of
having tried to kill the Queen by poisoning her in 1594. He was tried,
condemned and hung, drawn and quartered. This caused a lot of ill
feeling towards the Jewish people and gave them a reason to become
are many occasions in “The Merchant of Venice” where there is physical
and verbal abuse towards Shylock. Firstly we learn that Antonio had
spat in Shylock’s face in the...