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Does Shakespeare cause us to feel pity or contempt for Shylock in ‘The Merchant of Venice’? Essay

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Shakespeare’s ‘Merchant of Venice’ is a comedy which is set in Venice and Belmont. The play contains a great variety of characters. For example, Antonio a merchant of Venice, Bassanio Antonio’s best friend who is also in love with Portia, Portia an heiress of Belmont and Shylock a Jew and a moneylender. The basic story line of the play is that Antonio needs to borrow money but the only person he can borrow it off is a Jew called Shylock and as Antonio was a Christian, the time when this was set Christians and Jews were fighting. Shylock forms a plan to get at Antonio because he was rich.

At first we feel pity for Shylock when he’s persecuted for being a Jew. Everyone seems to hate Shylock just because he is a Jew. We feel pity for him because it seems even his daughter who he loves very much hates him. Shylock hates Antonio because he is a Christian and when Bassanio suggests that Shylock should dine with them he replies with a sarcastic comment. ” Yes, to smell pork; to eat of the habitations which your prophet the Nazarite conjured the devil into.” Pork is forbidden meat to the Jews and Shylock thinks they will eat pork in front of him because they are Christian. Christians have always persecuted Jews because Jews killed Jesus, so Shylock is seeking revenge.

When Shylock’s world begins to fall apart, a modern day audience may have much sympathy for him. Shylock’s daughter Jessica is in love with a Christian and she desserts her father to be with her lover, which not only means he will be alone he will have the shame of his name being carried on in a Christian family. This also means he will never see her again. When Jessica is saying goodbye to Shylock’s servant she says things like “I am sorry thou wilt leave my father so” Shylock’s servant also ends up leaving him because in the end he is left with a choice out of working with his evil master or Bassanio and he chooses Bassanio.

However, Shylock’s cunning and deceitful nature causes us to have contempt for him. When Shylock agrees to lend Antonio the money his part of the deal was that if Antonio didn’t pay back all the money in time he would get to cut off an equal pound of his flesh. Shylocks speech that tries to make us feel sorry for him has some main points in it. Firstly he points out that Antonio has insulted him and his friends and that he did this just because of his religion. Secondly that Jews are human like everyone else so a Jew should be allowed revenge just as a Christian. Then he finishes by saying he will now treat Antonio as he treat others.

Furthermore, Shylock’s lack of mercy indicates that he is an evil character who wants revenge at any price. Shylock threatens him because Antonio just borrowed money without making sure he could repay it in time and Shylock is angry with him. Now that the date has past that Antonio has to pay him has past Shylock wants a pound of flesh like the bond stipulates. Shylock is adamant in refusing the money he is owed he just wants a pound of flesh which suggests that Shylock never wanted the money he just wanted revenge on Antonio.

Shakespeare’s own prejudice is evident in the way that the Jewish religion is shown in the play. The Jewish stereotype in those days was mainly greedy people. He also refers to the conversion of Jews to Christianity as a ‘happy ending’ which shows prejudice in its self because it refers as Christianity as a superior race. Shylock is so stubborn about achieving justice and Antonio the same for mercy. But it ends up back firing in Shylock’s face when the court says you may take your pound of flesh but if you draw blood we will put you in prison because no blood was stipulated in the bond. As this is impossible Antonio ends up with all his flesh and doesn’t have to pay back any of the money.

I think Shylock is a very cunning character because he will try anything to get revenge at Antonio but doesn’t plan it to carefully. Although I am made to feel sorry for him at times I think he is an overall nasty, angry and cunning character. By the end of the story if have no pity for him.

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Does Shakespeare cause us to feel pity or contempt for Shylock in ‘The Merchant of Venice’? Essay. (2018, May 24). Retrieved from

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