The Merchant Of Venice: Is Shylock A Villain Or A Victim?

1061 words - 4 pages

In this essay I will try to discover is Shylock a villain or a victim, in the William Shakespeare play “The Merchant of Venice”

It is difficult to say if Shylock is a complete villain or a victim, as his character is complex and ambiguous. However, it is difficult to view Shylock as anything other than a devious, bloodthirsty and heartless villain in the majority of the play. There are a few points in the story where he can be viewed as victimised, as most Jews were at that time, but Shakespeare has purposely portrayed Shylock as a stereotypical Jew, greedy, and obsessed with money. Shylock has been written to be very inflated and exaggerated. Even when Shylock makes his first appearance in the play, his first words are “Three thousand ducats,” Act 1, Scene 3.

Shylock lends Antonio a sum of money, that Antonio intends to pay back when his merchant ships arrive in Venice, one month before the debt would be forfeited. When Bassanio arranges the sum of money, Shylock befriends him, only to stand aside and utter to him self, "I hate him for he is a Christian... If I catch him once upon the hip, I will feed fat the ancient grudge I bear him," Act 1, Scene 3. Shortly after saying, "But ships are but boards, sailors but men... the perils of waters, winds, and rocks...Three thousand ducats; I think I may take his bond." Shylock is setting his trap here. Shylocks terms of the agreement are a pound of Antonios flesh from closets his heart, if it be forfeited.

Shylock also seems to show little or no love towards his daughter, Jessica. Shylock was hurt by his daughter running away with a large amount of his wealth, and for eloping with a Christian lover (Lorenzo); this is a point where Shylock can be viewed as a victim in the story. This still does not justify words like “I would my daughter were dead at my foot, and the jewels in her ear!” Act 3, Scene 1. Although Shylock is hurt by the theft of his turquoise ring by Jessica, given to him by an old love (Leah), such shows of human feeling or emotion are under numerous, and he seems more concerned with his material wealth, than his own offspring. It was probably this attitude that frustrated his daughter and made her determined to escape him. Even his own servant Lancelot describes him as, "The Jew is the very devil incarnation,"

Shylock certainly is victimised by the Christians, Antonio spat in his face, Solerio and Solanio constantly mock him, for his religion and misfortunes. "As the dog Jew did utter in the street: 'My daughter! O my ducats! O my daughter!'" Act 2, Scene 8. However, it is hard to say if the characters treated all Jews like Shylock , as he is only one of two Jews in the story (The other Jew, Tubal, only has dialogue with Shylock) and perhaps Shylocks victimisation is due to his own behaviour, and his religion only used against him as a tool for attack.

“The Jew,” Shylock, as he is referred to throughout the play, does make some good points, and shows his discontent at...

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