In the play, A Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare presents Shylock as both a man who is sinning but also a man who has been sinned against. Shakespeare shows Shylock as a stereotypical villain as being greedy, malicious and a bitter man who is hated for his money lending but also for his religion. Having said this audience’s nowadays are able to recognise an injustice in the way Shylock is treated. Shylock is shunned from society predominantly due his Jewish background, creating conflicting responses from the audience.
In many productions Shylock is portrayed as more of a miserly money lender and malign villain, however to other audiences he is played in a quite different perspective, as a victim of the society around him. Shakespeare achieves all this through the use of various techniques, such imagery,antithesis, repetition and personification. In Act 1 Scene 3, the audience witnesses Shylock for the first time; Shylock nurses a long standing grudge against Antonio, he reveals that he despises Antonio because he is a Christian and also lends without interest therefore bringing down the rate of interest.
Here Shylock can be seen to be the one who is sinned against by his contemporaries and is presented as a person who is hated and mocked by Antonio. “You call me a misbeliever, cut dog throat, and spit upon my Jewish gabardine… You that did void your rheum upon my beard” Shylock uses the command word “you” to emphasise his anger and bitterness towards Antonio; his frequent mentions of the cruelty he has endured at the hands of Christians makes it hard for the audience to label him as a natural born monster; a view many Elizabethans would have had.
Shakespeare also writes, “He hates our sacred nation” and “The devil can cite scripture for his purpose/An evil soul producing holy witness/ Is like a villain with a smiling cheek” Accusing Antonio, Shylock again sheds light onto the attitude of Christians towards Jews in the play. As a opposed to the sombre theme of love that dominates 1. 1 and 1. 2, Shakespeare make the audience focus of the word hate, creating a contrast between the three scenes emphasising Shylock’s treatment.
Next we see Antonio actively berating Shylock, and comparing him to the devil (a theme repeated throughout the play). Shakespeare uses words like “evil” and “villain” to describe Shylock, all of which have dark connotations but at the same time emphasise the contemptuous nature in which Antonio treats Shylock, something the audience would pick upon. Shakespeare uses the phrase “smiling villain” an image often used in his other plays to show again to the audience Antonio’s racist nature creating the sense that Antonio is the one in the wrong, not Shylock.
Antithesis Moreover, Shylock addresses Antonio and Bassanio as “Signiors or Fair sir”, in a friendly manner. Whether this act of kindness is genuine is debatable however the fact still remains that Antonio still, even after Shylocks politeness replies rudely by still naming him as “Jew”. Shakespeare here presents Shylock as being not villainous as we once thought he would be but as to being sinned against.
Shakespeare creates a very tense conversation between the two men and gives an insight into attitudes into Venetian society and the complex nature of human nature. On the other hand, however, Shylock can be presented to the audience as the sinner of this scene. Shakespeare can be seen as presenting Shylock as a more stereotypical villain; as a deceitful schemer and perhaps even an evil minded person. As soon as Antonio enters the scene, Shylock goes into an aside, “How like a fawning publican he looks! / I hate him for he is a Christian.
One may argue that this sudden uprising of rhetoric stems from the fact that Shylock has been mistreated by Christians; despite this however, the audience still sees Shylock being the one who is being racist towards Antonio, and actually the one sinning against Antonio. Shakespeare using the iambic pentameter to emphasise certain words like “hate” and “Christian” to add to the errant tone of Shylock. It adds a sense of bitterness to the overall tone of Shylock’s voice and somewhat puts the spot light upon Antonio. Moreover, Shylock seems to revel in the fact of taking a pound of flesh from Antonio if he fails to pay the bond back.
When Shakespeare writes, “An equal pound of your fair flesh, to be cut off and take in what part of your body pleaseth me” This section of the scene creates a foreboding atmosphere; Shylock refers to the taking of the flesh previously as “merry – sport” and also does not specify where he will take the pound of flesh from creating a sense of ambiguity and heightening the sense of foreboding in the scene. Furthermore, Shakespeare uses words like “merry” and pleaseth” to make the audience feel like as though Shylock wants to and takes pleasure in harming people, somewhat fulfilling this villainous image of Shylock.
This presentation of Shylock on the contrary unlike before shows Shylock as vengeful and somewhat twisted causing the audience to ponder whether Shylock is a sinner. Furthermore, in Act 3 Scene 1 the audience sees Shylock’s speech, “hath not a Jew eyes”. A plea for human recognition; through the use of rhetorical questions, repetition and tri-colon, Shakespeare is able to create an emotive and vindictive speech that allows Shakespeare to present to the audience a more lost and helpless Shylock, making the audience feel more sympathetic.
Shylock begins his speech by reminding the audience of the pain Antonio has caused him and Shylock starts by listing how and what pain Antonio has inflicted upon him. “He hath disgraced me, and hindered me half a million; laughed at my losses, mocked at my gains, scorned my nation, thwarted my bargains, cooled my friends, heated mine enemies; and what’s his reason? I am a Jew”. Firstly, Shakespeare allows the audience to sympathise, with how Shylock is feeling, they also able hear the anger and fury in Shylock’s voice.
His use of rhetorical questions, emphasise his feeling and builds up to a rhetorical climax. Shakespeare uses powerful words like “mocked”, “scorned” and “thwarted” which all have dark connotation and produce “harsh” sounds when spoken to convey Shylock anger. Shakespeare also uses antithesis to express powerfully the differences between the two religions, when he says “laughed” against “losses” and “cooled my friends” against “heated mine enemies”, further creating a powerful and dramatic atmosphere around Shylock. In his effort to justify his planned revenge on Antonio.
Shylock reminds his fellow Venetians and the original Elizabethan audiences at the time, that a Jew has the same capacities as a Christian, and is therefore allowed to succumb to the same emotions as a Christian. Moreover, Shakespeare elaborates on the point that everyone is human when Shylock says, “Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions; fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases. ”… If a Christian wrong a Jew, what should his sufferance be by Christian example? Why, revenge! The villainy you teach me I will execute.
Probably the most famous line of the play, the use of lists by Shakespeare suggests an emotional out pour from Shylock, as though he wishes to spit it out. In this section, Shakespeare uses ten rhetorical questions to emphasise and create an even more powerful argument but reminds the audience that perhaps Shylock is not the villain and is the one being sinned against. The audience will pick upon the fact that Shakespeare emphasises the phrase and the word “you” when he says, “the villainy you teach me” Shakespeare points the finger at the Christians and blames them for the cruelty and hatred he has had to endure.
The audience may seem to think Shylock is not that charming, however Shakespeare gives the audience ample time to see why that might be; which suggests that Shylock is what he is due to fact that he has been mistreated by Christian most of his life. Shakespeare presents to the audience a man who has had enough and wishes only have his bond repaid, making the audience feel once again sympathetic and a man who is a victim of the brutal anti-Semitic ideas of his time.
However as the speech moves on, Shylock’s pledge to carry out his revenge, more or less changes the audiences view of Shylock as to being villainous; this stereotypical view of a Jew moreover, causing the audience to feel less sympathetic than before. He presents Shylock as a person who cares only for his wealth; Shakespeare uses some quite grotesque imagery in some parts to express his feelings when Shylock is talking to Tubal about his daughter’s elopement. Shylock speaks, “I would my daughter were dead at my foot, and the jewels in her ear! Would she were hearsed at my foot, and the ducats in her coffin! And “Four score ducats at a sitting! Four score ducats! ”
Here for the audience it is both easy to feel sympathetic towards Shylock but also be quite shocked by his reaction. One can feel pitiful towards Shylock; he has lost his money and his daughter but so are Shylock’s rages about losing all his money which seem to be more important that his daughter. Shakespeare poses quite tragic image of Shylock wishing his daughter dead is undermined by mentioning twice of his stolen wealth. The repetition of “four score ducats” emphasises how much Shylock values his money and shows how much more he cares for his wealth.
Shakespeare use of imagery shows to the audience that Shylock’s greed that perhaps his daughter’s death will recover some of his lost wealth crushes any sympathy we had for him. One may argue that the news has come as a shock to Shylock and so he is distressed and confused. Nevertheless, Shakespeare presents to the audience a sinner and a man who is perhaps a materialist and ruthlessly vengeful. With Antonio not able to repay his bond to Shylock, Shakespeare creates a highly intense and somewhat emotional court room scene drama for the audience, in Act 4 scene 1.
The whole play has been building up to this point; with the tension insurmountable and the audience waiting on tenterhooks, it gives Shakespeare a chance to present to the audience how the mood of Venice is stacked against. Shakespeare opens the scene with the Duke and Antonio, the Duke says “I am sorry for thee. Thou art come to answer/ A stony adversary, an inhuman wretch,/Incapable of pity, void and empty. ” This description by the Duke may well quite fit those of Shylocks Christian tormentors; nevertheless, Shakespeare shows to the audience the Duke who is supposedly impartial actually an impudent one sided person.
The Duke’s language conveys to the audience the real biasedness of the Duke, as words like “stony” and “Incapable” strike the audience. These hollow insults again make the audience feel some affinity for Shylock; Shakespeare presents a character that is already on the back foot from the beginning. Furthermore Shylock is hurled with abuse from Gratiano. He says, “Thy currish spirit/Governed a wolf, who – hanged for human slaughter – /Even from the gallows di his fell soul fleet” and O be thou damned, inexecrable dog” Shakespeare makes several references that illuminate many of the main themes of the play (i. e. Act 1 scene 3).
Shakespeare’s use of Gratiano as an antagonist reminds us of the anti-Semitic context of the play and his use of hate imagery to express Gratiano’s underlying hatred towards Shylock. The Christian hurl insults at Shylock; it is also true, however that Shylock cannot be softened but the Christians don’t realise that their own abuse and institutional prejudice actually fuels his rage. The use of the words “wolf” and “gallows” gives an insight into Gratiano’s severe anti-Semitic character and intensifies his words and emotions clearly causing the Shakespeare’s presentation of Shylock to somewhat remain as one who is “sinned against”.
Moreover, when Portia enters the scene she uses her manipulative nature to persuade and finally annihilate Shylock. Shakespeare uses of persuasive language and imagery to more of less destroy Shylock completely , Shakespeare therefore is able to present Shylock as one who is helpless and alone, increasing the audiences pity for him. Portia shows little mercy and humiliates Shylock, when the loophole in the law is revealed, “Down, therefore, and beg mercy of the Duke”. Having a carefully formulated plan Portia repeatedly asks Shylock to show mercy and the chance to backdown.
But she waits until the very last moment to step in, so adding to the humiliation she clearly wishes to inflict upon him. Portia constantly refers to Shylock as “Jew”, showing us that even Portia is an anti-Semite through her hateful language and deceptive ways, despite our previous assumptions of her character. Shakespeare’s presentation of Shylock means that the audience see a helpless Shylock who is unable to protest against his accusers. The Duke swiftly seizes the opportunity to free Antonio and destroy Shylock.
For half thy wealth, it is Antonio’s;/The other half come to the general state. ” Both the Duke and Antonio lessen the force of the Portia’s law and show Shylock some generosity. However, by forcing him the convert to a Christian, they strip him of his identity and force to give up his occupation, because Christians are forbidden to practice usury. In other words Shakespeare presents Shylock at the end of the scene as nothing more that the bare animal, as he himself described in Act 1, Scene 3.
Shakespeare ends Shylocks part in the play in a somewhat sad way. The audience have the image of a broken Shylock who has nothing left, he says, “I pray you give me leave to go from hence: I am not well. Send me the deed after me/ And I will sign it. ” Shakespeare makes Shylock’s last words in the play virtually monosyllabic meaning what when they are spoken they give the impression to the audience of a man who is dejected and wearisome; Portia becomes more ruthless throughout the scene and with Gratiano showing his usual bile, Shylock is defeated.
It does depend on how it is played in each production but generally we are presented with a broken man who has been victimised by his fellow Venetians because of his faith. However, Shylock can also be presented as a “sinner” in this scene as well. His vengeful attitude towards Antonio and his obsession with the pound of flesh perhaps can alter our view of the Shylock that we have come to sympathise with. One reason the audience may feel like Shylock is a sinner is because of the effect he has on Antonio.
Shakespeare writes, “The weakest kind of fruit,/Drops earliest to the ground” Shakespeare uses the metaphor of Antonio comparing himself to a fruit. The imagery used of a fruit dropping to the ground, gives the sense that Antonio is weak and tired, perhaps shifting our attention away from Shylock and making the audience feel a bit more compassionate towards Antonio. A few lines later the audience is presented with a somewhat disturbing image of Shylock sharpening his knife on his shoe, ready to cut out Antonio’s heart.
Bassanio says “ Why dost thou whet thy knife so earnestly? It shows to the audience a Shylock who is odious and as one who will sin countless time to get his revenge; this section builds up the tension and creates a dramatic atmosphere for the audience, between the two parties until the final climax. As we have seen previously, Shylock is presented by Shakespeare as someone who is intent on vengeance which fuels the audience’s perception of his image as careless and cruel. Shylock cannot actually give an explanation for his dislike and want for revenge on Antonio however Shylocks speech expresses a varied range of emotions which also mirror the evil side of his character that the audience an see.
Why he cannot abide a gaping pig;/ Why he, a harmless necessary cat; /Why he, a woollen bagpipe, but of force” and “A losing suit against him. Are you answered” Shakespeare uses a lot of repetition of Shylock’s imagery, – “the gaping pig” and “woollen bagpipe” and also the rhetorical question, “are you answered” which repeats several times as well. Shakespeare also uses a tri-colon on the phrase “Why he”, giving the sense that he is accusing the Christians of the years of abuse. Shylock’s imagery draws on the dullest examples unlike the Christians who use poetic images of angels.
His speaking seems more erratic at times and almost also perhaps mimics the way he is feeling, angry, edgy and vengeful. By simply justifying his reasons for revenge because “he feels like it” Shylock presents and intensifies our image of a man who is cruel and insensitive and who will sin against anyone who threatens his wealth. To, conclude Shakespeare is able to effectively present both a Shylock who is “sinful” but also a person who has been “sinned against”. Shakespeare successfully conveys Shylocks emotions by how he interacts with his fellow Christians but also how he reacts to events that happen around him.
I personally agree with the phrase “more sinned against that sinning”. Shylock has endured years of abuse at the hands of the Christians; I believe that is what makes him so cruel and unpleasant at times. The outcome of the play certainly swayed my opinion of Shylock but it still remains that Shylock was not in the wrong most of the time in the play, but was the victim of anti-Semitic ideas of the time. Moreover, over the 400 years since the play was written productions have come to show Shylock as a victim not a villain and sometimes our interpretation of Shylock does depend on the production.
However, to a certain extent I agree that Shylock at times was more sinning; we cannot overlook the fact that if he had not been stopped by Portia he may well have killed Antonio and that would have completely altered my interpretation of him as a character. In addition, I do believe that Shakespeare deliberately made Shylock to not kill Antonio as a way of perhaps allowing us and to engage in the complexities of human nature (especially Shylock and Portia) and allow us to develop our view and interpretation of Shylock.