In The Merchant of Venice, the part of Shylock, a money lending Jew, is one which carries many emotions, pain, joy, cruelty and loss. His character’s contrary attributes mean that one moments sorrow for Shylock can turn to hate in the blink of an eye. In this essay, I must come to a conclusion on whether I see Shylock as a victim or a villain, using the metaphoric scales of judgement to outweigh the good with the bad, or visa versa.
The first scene where we see Shylock is when Antonio comes to borrow money for Bassanio. In this scene there are many contrasting emotions. The first thing we note is that he refuses to eat with Christians, ”I will buy with you, sell with you, and so following: but I will not eat with you, drink with you or pray with you.” The first way this could be taken is in that he is simply being condescending and rude by saying this because he thinks that Christians are below his standard, but upon deeper inspection, I think he is only acknowledging his religious beliefs because Jews cannot eat food which is not kosher, drink alcohol or pray to other Gods. This quotation alone carries two sides, but I think the latter meaning is more truthful than its predecessor.
This is quickly followed by an incident in which Shylock shows a callous side, stating, ”I hate him for he is a Christian,” and this sentence is pusued by a string of reasons why, mostly for his pocket’s sake. This malevolent side of Shylock is often brought about through thought of his money being lost, and is not a pleasant side at all. In this statement he is clearly a villain, because of his quite blatant racism.
The next powerful statement that Shylock makes is one which causes us to feel sorrow for Shylock. When Shylock asks for usances he is turned on by the very men who asked for his help, they argue to be held with no interest. The interest is the way Shylock gains his money and to deny him this would take away the only incentive he had originally, so rightfully he argues his case in a moving and powerful speech. ”Many a time and oft, you have rated me about my usances, still I have borne it with a patient shrug,…You called me misbeliever, cut-throat dog, and spet upon my Jewish gabardine,…another time you’ll call me dog: and for these courtesies, I’ll lend you thus much moneys.” This quote shows the sufferance’s that Shylock has bore and may explain some of the bitterness and malice that he feels towards Christians. In this quote Shylock is definitely a victim.
But yet, after such a heart felt and genuine statement, Shylock turns again and becomes pitiless, blood-thirsty and brinks on inhuman. This is done when to compensate for his loss of usances he asks Antonio to be bound to a bond, ”If you repay me not on such a day…let the forfeit be nominated for an equal pound of your fair flesh, to be cut off and taken in whatever part of your body pleaseth me.” To ask for such a forfeit shows the deep-rooted hatred that Shylock holds for Christians, in this statement it is unquestionable that Shylock is a villain.
Shylock’s daughter is a large area of Shylock’s life and his loathing of Christians is fortunately not taken up by her. It seems that Jessica has a difficult life with her father and she abhors his rules and religion as she has fallen in love with a Christian that her father would never let her marry. As a last resort she decides to run away with Lorenzo, her lover. This alone would be hard for a father to come to terms with, but she steals his money also. This makes us feel compassionate for Shylock and we feel that he has been done an injustice so as a result he is seen as a victim.
Here Shylock shows us again that under his cold surface is only a man, ”I am a Jew, hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions, fed by the same food, hurt with the same weapons.. as a Christian is: If you prick us do we not bleed? If you poison us do we not die? And if you wrong us shall we not revenge!” But as was mentioned before, Shylocks cold heart is only penetrated by his money, and he feels the loss of his money more than the loss of his daughter. ”I would my daughter were dead at my foot, and the jewels in her ear: would she were hears’d at my foot and the ducats in her coffin, no news of them?” He once again contradicts his previous emotions of pain and sorrow with those of remorselessness and brutality, and so once more becomes a villain.
Later news of a ring which his wife had given him when they were courting comes to Shylock, it had been sold by his daughter for a monkey. Shylock feels this deeply and in a dramatised version of the play he breaks down into tears saying, ”I had it of Leah when I was a bachelor, I would not of traded it for a wilderness of monkeys.” This makes us commiserate with Shylock and he is clearly a victim of a implacable crime.
In the final instances where we see Shylock we are given two feelings about him. Firstly and most importantly he has not been returned the money he is owed on time and so Antonio has forfeited the bond, Shylock has taken him to court to claim his so called justice. At the court Shylock presses the case whole-heartedly and his passion for the forfeit is blood lust. His desire to kill Antonio is shown in this quote. After he is offered six thousand ducats to settle he says ”If every ducat in six thousand ducats, were in six parts, and every part a ducat, I would not draw them, I would have my bond.”
At first Shylock wins the case, he is ready to kill Antonio and has been sharpening his knife on the sole of his shoe. This shows that he would have actually gone through with the punishment, when the tables are turned. Shylock finds himself the victim of a loophole and ends up on the receiving end of the law, he says, ”Nay take my life and all, pardon not that, you take my house, when you do take the prop that doth sustain my house you take my life when you do take the means whereby I live.” Not only is half his estate taken but his religion also and Antonio’s malice for Shylock is shown. Here Shylock is despaired, and he is shown finally as a victim.
In conclusion, though Shylock has suffered deeply, all the problems he is subject to other than the racism of the Christians, is brought upon himself. His unrelenting callousness is enough to convict Shylock of villainy as he attempts to persecute those who have wronged him in the most terminal of ways, death. In this I feel Shylock is a villain.