Before and around Shakespeare’s time Jews were portrayed on stage as stock characters. They were played by Christians dressed up in long cloaks, wearing a skullcap with a long beard. They spoke in exaggerated tones and accents and made lots of arm movements. They were figures of fun, the comedy relief, and they were viewed as money grabbing misers. They often died on stage or if not they were severely punished. Whatever happened they always lost one way or another, and more often than not bad things happened to their wives and daughters.
I think in not putting the Shylock scene at the end of the play, when people left the theatre they were not thinking of how Shylock lost everything but of how everyone else had a happy ending. I think Shakespeare was subtly saying people didn’t have to be racist. He couldn’t say this outright because of how people felt and acted at the time so he had to be subtle. As soon as Shylock enters the play he starts teasing Bassanio, saying “well” after every sentence he speaks.
Shylock then has an aside in which he gives a number of reasons why he hates Antonio: firstly Antonio is a Christian who hates all Jews, and secondly he lends money without charging any interest, therefore ruining Shylock’s business. Shylock reveals he has a grudge against Antonio and desperately wants to destroy him. This reveals Shylock’s villainous side. When Antonio enters Shylock tells him the story of Jacob and his Sheep from the Book of Genesis signifying the benefit of profit and justifying his way of business.
Antonio interrupts him and warns Bassanio of Biblea€“quoting villains, telling him “the devil can cite scripture for his purpose”. Shylock then proceeds to tell Bassanio that in the past Antonio had rheumed on his beard, spat on his gabardine, and called him a cut-throat dog while kicking him like a stray mongrel. Shylock also says, “suff’rance is the badge of our tribe”, and asks Antonio if he is a dog how could he lend him money. These comments support the argument that Shylock was a victim. Antonio responds by saying he would carry on treating him as before.
He tells Shylock not to lend the money to him as a friend, but as an enemy, who would reap satisfaction if the agreement were broken. Shylock tells Antonio he would be friends with him, but we know this is a lie from his earlier aside. Again this shows a villainous side of Shylock. He offers to lend the money to Antonio without any interest, asking only for a pound of flesh from Antonio’s body as a forfeit. Shylock calls it a “merry” bond to try and hide the fact that it would probably kill Antonio. Antonio agrees to the bond but Bassanio is not happy, saying, “I like not fair terms and a villain’s mind”.
Lancelot, who is contemplating running away, says his master, Shylock, is a kind of devil but to run away is to be ruled by the devil himself. He also tells his father he is so famished in Shylock’s service, that he could count his ribs through his skin. Shylock’s daughter Jessica says her father would not let her see a Christian. She says she is ashamed to be her father’s daughter, and that she wants to become a Christian. Jessica then reveals she is planning to run off with Lorenzo that night while Shylock was at a supper with the Christians.
Shylock and Lancelot enter and Shylock tells them that he had dreams of moneybags last night, making him a stereotype Jew. Before leaving, Shylock tells Jessica to stay inside the house and not to “gaze upon Christian fools with varnished faces”. Shylock also says Lancelot is snail slow in profit and he would happily have him waste Bassanio’s money. When Solanio sees Shylock he comments that the devil comes in likeness of a Jew. This is after Shylock finds out that his daughter has run away, and he tells Solanio that Jessica is damned.
Shylock goes on to tell Solanio that just because he is a Jew it doesn’t mean he is not human. He says Jews and Christians both eat the same food, use the same tools and are subject to the same diseases, and that if a Jew wronged a Christian, the Christian would take revenge, so if a Christian wronged a Jew should not the Jew also take revenge? When Shylock’s friend Tubal enters Solanio says another Jew could not come along unless it was the devil himself. Shylock then moans about how much his stolen jewellery cost and says he wishes his daughter were dead at his feet.
Tubal starts playing with Shylock’s emotions, first telling him good news, then bad news and more good news followed by more bad news and so on. In Act 3 scene 3 Antonio has been thrown in jail for being unable to pay back his debt to Shylock. Shylock refuses to listen to Antonio’s pleas for mercy, and eventually Antonio tells Solanio he will not ask for mercy any more as Shylock is an unfeeling Jew who hates him. Shylock repeats the word “bond” three times within one sentence and does it again in his next sentence signifying its importance.
Elsewhere Lancelot tells Jessica that she is damned because she is the daughter of a Jew, and nothing can save her. Before Shylock enters the courtroom the Duke calls him an inhuman wretch incapable of pity, but on entering the room the Duke says he and everyone in the courtroom thinks Shylock will carry on this charade until the end, and let Antonio go at the last minute. Shylock responds by telling the Duke he wants his pound of flesh merely because he hates Antonio, but also because it is his whim.
Bassanio offers Shylock 36,000 ducats, twelve times the original sum owed as a forfeit, but Shylock says he would rather have his bond. Antonio tells the court that Shylock is so stubborn it is like trying to stop the waves breaking on the beach. While waiting in the courtroom Shylock starts sharpening his knife on the sole of his shoe, and Bassanio says Shylock is a beast within a man’s body, wolfish, bloody, starved and ravenous. After Bassanio pleading Shylock tells him there is no reason for him to be merciful, and he will take responsibility for his own actions.
Portia enters the courtroom, disguised as Dr. Balthazar, and gives judgment in favour of Shylock. Before cutting the pound of flesh Shylock says there should be no surgeon present, as it isn’t signified in the bond. Upon hearing this, Bassanio calls Shylock an “inexecrable dog”. Before Shylock can cut his pound of flesh, Portia tells him he must not spill one drop of blood, or all his lands and goods will be given to the state of Venice. On hearing this Shylock asks for his money instead. Bassanio is willing to give him the money but Portia says he must take his bond.
Shylock tells the court he will leave without his bond, but Portia tells him if it is proved that an alien tries to kill any citizen of Venice, the citizen in question shall receive one half of his goods and the other half will be given to the state of Venice, and the alien must beg for his life. Portia had tricked him into losing everything. The Duke pardons Shylock’s life, but Shylock says he would rather die than live in poverty. Antonio shows Shylock partial mercy and allows him to keep half his wealth, as long as he becomes a Christian.
The Duke says Shylock must agree to these terms or he will recant the pardon of Shylock’s life, and Shylock agrees. These last series of events show Shylock to be a great victim. Shylock tells the courtroom he is not well and asks to be allowed to leave immediately. Overall I believe Shylock was both a victim and a villain, but I think Shylock only wanted revenge because of the way he had been victimised all his life. I believe if he had been treated fairly he would not have done anything villainous, so all in all I believe Shylock was a victim.