The Character of Shylock in William Shakespeare's Othello William Shakespeare was born in 1564, in the small town of Stratford.
He wrote many plays, including the revered Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth,
Midsummer Night's Dream, Othello, Hamlet and, of course, The Merchant
of Venice. He died in 1616, aged 52.
This essay aims to take a look at Shylock as a character, to decide
whether he is a victim or a villain. A vital gauge in the proceedings
is the contrast between the reactions of audiences from Elizabethan
days to recent years. The latter audience would have taunted Shylock,
purely because of the fact his character is a Jew. In the sixteenth
century, England was a Christian country, and all children would most
certainly be baptised soon after they were born. They would also be
taught the essentials of the Christian faith at a very early age.
Attendance at Church was compulsory; if you failed to go without a
good medical reason you would be fined. Before the plot even starts,
the audience condemns Shylock because he is a Jew. During the
sixteenth in England the Christians subsequently despised Jews, and
any other religion or paranormal existence that they did not
understand. Jews were often forbidden to own land or engage in trade
in England, so the only occupation open to them was money lending,
which they exploited to maximum potential. There was also a great
opposition between Christians and Jews in Venice, where Christians
again prevailed, because they made up the majority of the population.
Jews were portrayed as inferior, and marginalized, because of their
religion. Shakespeare showed incredible insight to introduce burning
issues of today into a deeply Christian country that misunderstood
religious prejudice four hundred years ago.
The play takes place in Venice, which is situated in the north-east of
Italy and is known as 'Queen of the Adriatic' for its strong naval
power. Shylock, a rich Jewish money lender, attempts to make a living
and survive in a country that despises him and alienates him. In the
play Venice is made to look wealthy and a desirable place to be. This
is to do with the trade routes crossing straight through Venice,
carrying wonders from the East by land and West by sea. This is the
reason Shakespeare sets the play in Venice, because at the time the
public rarely even left their respective villages, and viewed settings
abroad with wonder.
Shylock's opposite character, a wealthy Christian named Antonio, is
not beset by a burning hatred of different and foreign religions like
the majority of other people living in Venice at the time. He made his
fortune on the seas as a tradesman. He also took on the role of the
city's unofficial money lender, under-cutting Shylock's...