Our impressions of the character Shylock before Act III Scene 1 are of a money daft man. He seems to be more concerned about his ducats rather than the loss of his daughter, showing that he is very obsessed with wealth and most certainly greedy, and a miser in every possible way. An example of this is when he won’t buy new clothes for Lancelot. We also see how much of a miserable and selfish character Shylock is by the way he treats his daughter; for example, he wouldn’t allow her to enjoy herself, so he keeps her locked up.Order now
However another angle to look at this character is that, we have sympathy for him, he seems to be an ‘outsider’ in the community and has been a past victim of Antonio after being insulted in public, spat on continuously in addition undercutting Shylock’s business. Another aspect of his behaviour to a positive extent is that toward his daughter he is seemingly very protective over her.
Solerio and Solanio enter stage at the beginning of Act III Scene 1, discussing a rumour of the loss of one of Antonio’s ships, said to be wrecked in the waters near Kent. Straight after this, just before Shylock appears they ridicule him and say;
“Let me say ‘amen’ betimes, last the devil cross my prayer, for here he comes in the likeness of a Jew.”
By this we get an insight as to what others see of this character, in this case quite a negative approach as they use imagery of the devil. Solerio and Solanio are both hurling insults at Shylock and have no sympathy for the flight of his daughter, these making us feel that Shylock is not all too welcome in the community, there is a lot of spite for Shylock.
When Shylock enters he immediately confronts the two men, Salerio and Solanio accusing them of knowing about his daughters proposed flight. Solanio says that Shylock should have known that a bird leaves its nest once its feathers have grown; suggesting Shylock is very naive to his daughter.
He refers to his daughter, Jessica as flesh and blood, conversely Salerio says that the difference between the blood of this father and daughter is like that between black and white, he also calls him callous. Shylock hears the news of Antonio’s loss, then repeats three times that the merchant must ‘look to his bond’ making him sound menacing and calculating, he then delivers one of Shakespeare’s most famous speeches; ‘Hath not a Jew eyes?’ This speech more or less outlines the fact that he is intent upon revenge, a matter which in Elizabethan times was dangerous territory, as taking revenge was sinful, only God revenges, not the people.
Shylock does not know what he will do with the pound of flesh when Salerio asks, he simply suggests “To bait fish withal.” Then he says if it will feed nothing else, it will feed his revenge. Shylock lusts for his revenge and pound of flesh, consequently doesn’t this show how his values are wrong and that as Gratciano stated, he is more animal than man, context of the ‘Great Chain of Being’. After all, mercy and forgiveness is a divine quality given by God.
The speech begins as Shylock recounts all the times that Antonio has abused, by spitting upon him including undercutting his business; he believes Antonio did this simply because Shylock was a Jew. Shylock claims that a Jew is a man like any other as he states:
“I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions?”
He also says that Christians exact revenge when they are wronged, so why shouldn’t a Jew do the same? I feel some consideration for Shylock at this point as I believe there may be some discrimination due to his religious beliefs, a further example of this is that Jews only had access to court in Venice.
Hospitality for Shylock is very poor in the community as the reader becomes to feel this from the reaction of other characters, however, does he deserve this degree of poor hospitality after the way he has treat his daughter and what he says about her, that he wishes she were dead at his feet. If we sum up all the cases between Shylock and Antonio, morally does Shylock have the right to take the life from Antonio due to the way he has been treat, because he has broken to the terms in the bond, then legally Shylock can take his life, however, should he follow the guidance of moral or legal judgement? When Tubal appears, Shakespeare contrasts him with Shylock, Tubal shows sense thus tells Shylock to calm down furthermore that other men have ill luck too, therefore showing not all Jewish people are the same as Shylock.
In act III Scene 2, Lorenzo, Jessica, Salerio and a messenger from Venice enter; Bassanio is given a letter from Antonio which says that the entire merchant’s ventures have failed due to a disaster at sea. Salerio says that Shylock is determined to have his pound of flesh, no one being able to persuade him other, this making me feel that Shylock is very stubborn and cruel at heart as he effectively wants to murder Antonio. Similarly in Act III Scene 3, my feelings do not differ and I lose all sympathy for Shylock as he instructs a jailer to imprison Antonio. The merchant tries to get Shylock to listen to him; however, the Jew is set upon revenge.
Once Shylock has Antonio in court the trial begins, Portia fools Shylock by making him assume she is siding with him and encourage him to go for his pound of flesh, as was stated in the bond, she then later turns the table upon Shylock after he has begun sharpening the knife on his sole. Reflecting his thoughts, that being him sure to win the case and take what he feels rightful from Antonio, as he hates him so much. Here we see Shylock showing no patience building on my negative feeling towards him, a further sense of deeper hatred, moulded upon the basis of his actions. When he sharpens the blade of his knife on the sole of his shoe, he is a blood – thirsty man, even though Portia is fooling him into being persistent with his choice, Shylock deserves no respect, he is ultimately a murderer!
Portia then throws a spanner in the works and begins to torment Shylock, knowing already his case is flawed by informing him of what can and can’t be taken from Antonio. She says that as it was not stated in the bond he cannot spill a drop of blood nor take more or less than exactly a pound of Antonio’s flesh, this of course making his bond impossible to perform. This therefore meaning to me that Portia too is as callous as Shylock.
Now that the case is turned upon Shylock, it is also said that should an alien attempt to wrong a Venetian, they are then to be punished by death. Antonio however, shows mercy, he does not wish for death to be brought upon Shylock, but he must convert to Christianity, he is also spared half his wealth. Once Shylock is informed of his punishment I feel that the Christians are being too fair. Shylock, a man greedy for not only money but the blood of a Christian should have been executed. Christians show mercy for him, sparing both his life and half of his wealth, however, they are not punished themselves for their behaviour also as I believe they should have, after all Antonio did assault Shylock earlier and Portia was instrumental in Shylocks decision, although these people are not killers and don’t show intent upon the death of Shylock.
I personally think that our views change towards Shylock, as we begin Act III Scene 1 feeling hatred for this character, if we catalogue all the complaints made against Antonio moreover how the Christians behave, such as Portia in court, perhaps being just as callous as Shylock, and then we have some sympathy for him. He almost seems out numbered against the Christians, although he was given a fair chance in court, he just failed to consider his bond thoroughly and thus the fault, barring him to perform his act of justice. Had Antonio not assaulted Shylock then no conflict would have been brought about, as no hatred would have developed so I believe Christians in this case are to blame also, I do feel that what Shylock imposed upon Antonio was inhumane, however at the end of the day, Shylock is a greedy selfish and cold hearted man, unlike the Christians he would show no mercy to Antonio – he does after all want to murder him.