The Character of Shylock in The Merchant of Venice Essay
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The Character of Shylock in The Merchant of Venice
Victim or villain. These two words are the total opposites of each other. A victim is someone that 'we' in general should, or may, feel sorry for and attempt to sympathise or empathise with. But a villain is the one person that people love to hate. The best example of this I feel is pantomime. The victims or heroes are clear-cut and the audience willingly cheers them. But as soon as the villain walks on stage he is hissed and booed, unfortunately it is not as simple as this in 'The Merchant of Venice' and how the audience react to the characters is all important in making the distinction between victim or villain.
Although the title of the…show more content…
In contrast to this however, modern attitudes to racism, in particular anti-Semitism, are different. All throughout history Jews have been persecuted, most recently in the Holocaust in Germany. I would think that many people today would be affected by this, that such persecution could happen just because people stood up for their faith. It is this view that makes 'The Merchant of Venice', and particularly Shylock, so complex and still extremely relevant to modern society.
Shylock is a Jew in a Christian city, isolated and vulnerable. This is a cause of great prejudice against Shylock and means his apparent villainy can begin to be understood. But, interpretation of Act 1:3 and the lines therein and underlying meanings accounts for many things. For example, when Bassanio invites Shylock to have a meal with them, "If it please you to dine with us", it can be read as a kind offer rejected by Shylock or ignorance of the Jewish faith, either unintentionally or intentionally to patronise and provoke Shylock. But one point in this very important scene, Act 1:3, is when Shylock recounts all he has suffered at the hands of the Christians, epitomised in Antonio. Shylock has "borne it with a patient shrug" and goes on to demonstrate the hypocrisy of the supposed
Shylock charges high interest rates and when he is not repaid he insists on revenge. In the play Shylock loans Antonio money, and out of jest he suggests that should the loan not be repaid in time Shylock may cut off one pound of flesh from Antonio’s body. Soon after Shylock’s daughter runs away from home with Lorenzo, a Christian, and takes her father’s ducats with her. When Antonio’s ships do not come in and he is not able to repay the loan Shylock is no longer interested in getting his money back. Shylock wants revenge for the loss of his daughter through the fulfillment of the bond. In court Shylock is defeated because of his selfishness.
Shakespeare also shows the human qualities of Shylock throughout the play. Shakespeare brings out these human qualities by causing us to feel sympathy for him. After the loss of his daughter Shylock ran through the streets crying “My daughter! O my ducats! O my daughter!” as children followed him, mocking him. This causes us to feel sympathy for Shylock, even though we may feel him to be a villain. Besides the loss of his daughter and his ducats, after the trial Shylock also loses his property and his religion. The loss of his property was certainly a blow to Shylock but it can hardly compare to his loss of his religion.
His forced conversion to Christianity brings out more sympathy for him. Shakespeare’s manipulation of our feelings for Shylock show Shakespeare’s gift as a writer. He gave Shylock the ability to make us hate him at times, and sympathize with him at others. This makes Shylock one of the most vivid characters of the play.