In the Merchant of Venice, Shylock is presented in many forms. The first question one must ask is whether the play is Anti-Septic or not. This enables us to see how accurate Shylock’s portrayal is. In my opinion the play is not. Shakespeare displays Shylock in both positive and negative ways. In turn, during the play we are able to sympathise with Shylock and to fear him. At the end of the play we are horrified with Shylock’s behaviour but can easily understand his way of thinking. This is because throughout the whole play he is abused in various ways. This is why when he does this horrific act; he is seeking revenge rather than pleasure.
The play is mostly done to show the Christian prejudice at Shakespeare’s time. It shows the malice and hate aimed at Jews, and gives us many examples of their mistreatment. At the time of Shakespeare Jews were stereotypicalised and a certain view was upheld about them. This meant that anyone who was Jewish was automatically selfish and somewhat improper. Shakespeare wanted to exhibit this prejudice and wanted, in my opinion, for us to sympathise with him. Unfortunately, he was not able to do this entirely due to his audience at the time. In Shakespearean times, people were far more prejudice than the people of today.
Unlike us, they did not know about the dangers of it and its potentially catastrophic results. You only have to look at the holocaust to see how damaging it can be. In this nearly six million Jews were killed because of this prejudice towards Jews. With this knowledge we can therefore sympathise with Shylock and see the faults within the Venetian behaviour. But, the Shakespearean people did not see this. They disliked Shylock for he was a Jew and found pleasure when Shylock was abused in the play and hated him more when he did mistakes and his terrible deeds.
For this reason Shakespeare was compelled to make Shylock a malevolent character and Characters like Antonio and Portia seem on the side of good. If he hadn’t though there would of certainly have been riots in the theatre and Shakespeare would have been in danger of losing his respect and many fans. If he had shown the prejudice more, it is very possible that he could have been accused of being a Jew himself. First one must look at the prejudice towards Shylock in the Merchant of Venice. One can find it very easy to pity Shylock and maybe even start to like him.
This is due to the amount of unnecessary abuse directed towards him. Throughout his whole life I feel that he has not done much wrong. If you look at him closely you will see that maybe his only fault is his love for money. But, if you look more closely you will see that even this, is done for a purpose. Shylock is an extremely religious man. A person that basically lives his life on how his religion tells him to. With this, Shylock applies all his actions due to what it says in the Torah and his holy books. Therefore, when it quotes in the Old Testament ‘your wealth is a sign of your goodness’, Shylock applies this.
He makes his ambition to stay wealthy for it means he is in the favour of God. Shylock therefore is very dedicated to staying wealthy and increasing his wealth. This gives the Venetians a reason to dislike him, when really in my opinion they mostly hate him for the religion he obtains. Now let us look at some examples of this prejudice. When Antonio goes to Shylock in search of money him and Antonio are very offensive to him. Shylock is discussing whether he should give the money or not and Bassanio suggests they talk over it during dinner. One might think this is a harmless or even generous gesture nut it is far from it.
With Shylock’s vast experience with prejudice, he recognises that they will insult him if he eats with them and offend them. He identifies that they will eat pork in front of him which is a meat forbidden to the Jews. He calls pigs, the meat of the devil and if he was to eat with them they would be sure to make malicious jokes and laugh at him. ‘To smell pork; to eat of the habitation which your prophet the Nazarite conjured the devil into’. Then Antonio enters the room and Shylock’s understandable hate towards the Christians becomes apparent.
He has been so insulted and wounded by the Christian society that now he has completely given up on them and is prejudice towards them. ‘I hate him for he is Christian’. He goes on further bringing forward the hate shown to him by Antonio. He recognises how Antonio hates him and all Jews. ‘He hates our sacred nation’. Prejudice like this causes us to sympathise with Shylock. It also gives us a sense that maybe he is hated for being Jewish rather than for his personality. After further talking between Shylock and Bassanio, Shylock comes up with a speech, which causes you to sympathise with him.
He says how Antonio has always abused and insulted him, calling him names like ‘cut throat dog’. Shylock speaks of how Antonio has scolded him towards his money dealings and how he has always put up with it. Then, he finishes off by saying; ‘with all these courtesies I’ll lend you thus moneys’. This sums up how Shylock has been treated, and how he has been treated so badly. Antonio insults him yet wants Shylock to be kind and generous to him. Antonio’s following speech solidifies how he has mistreated Shylock and increases our commiseration towards him.
One would expect a man to deny such accusations from Shylock or at least apologise for his actions but Antonio does not. Instead, he admits to his actions and goes on further to say that he will do it again. ‘I am as like to call thee again, to spit on thee again, to spurn thee too’. This statement forces you in a way to feel for Shylock. This next section, in my opinion, produces a large amount of sympathy towards Shylock. Jessica betrays shylock and runs away from home to marry a Christian. This hurts Shylock in two ways. The first is that she betrayed his trust and the second, that she betrayed her religion.
He explains this to Salerio and Salanio and all they do is mock him. They show no compassion or pity but laugh at his misfortune. They tell Shylock how he is nothing like his daughter when he explains to them how his own ‘flesh and blood’. ‘More between your bloods than there is between wine and rhenish’. Afterwards, Shylock comes up with one of his most famous speeches that put together his and all Jews awful treatment. Shylock states he has been ‘disgraced’, ‘laughed’ at, ‘mocked’ and he asks for what reason. For being a ‘Jew’ he continues. H claims to being like every other human, ‘hath not a Jew eyes’.
He says he can feel pain just as anyone else, ‘if u prick us, do we not bleed, if you poison us do we not die’. HE does not understand why Jews are treated so harshly and asks the question to Salerio and Solanio. He does not even understand the Christian hypocrisy. If a Jew insulted a Christian, revenge would be sought on that Jew. If a Christian insulted a Jew though, why can’t he seek revenge? He is simply stating how unfairly Jews are treated for being Jewish ‘If a Jew wrong a Christian, what is his humility? Revenge! If a Christian wrong a Jew, what should his sufferance be by Christian example?
Why, revenge! Much sympathy is brought out by Shylock here and one can easily see his point of view. Later Tubal comes with news to Shylock and in this news is that his daughter had sold his ring for a monkey. This deeply wounds Shylock, showing he is an emotional man with feelings. The ring was given to him by his wife. She meant a much to him as well as the ring. Jessica knew this yet still sold it. It proves how maybe money is not all that matters to Shylock. On the other hand though Shylock’s extreme actions and the hate shown towards him make you wonder how good a man he really is.
It makes you question Shylock’s personality and whether one should try and understand him or not. For example, the fact that his own daughter hates and despises him questions his goodness and whether one should sympathise with him or not. Jessica cannot bear living with Shylock and even goes as far as saying he is ‘a merry devil’. How good can a man be if his daughter hates him and is saying such horrific things about him? As soon as Shylock leaves the house she disobeys all his orders and runs off with Lorenzo whilst stealing many ducats.
When Shylock returns though he is very disappointed with Jessica but somewhat more with the fact that she stole from him. His remarks give you a sense that he cares more for the money. When he is speaking to Tubal he speaks a lot more about the money he lost rather than his daughter. Tubal is sent by Shylock to retrieve Jessica and when he returns without her Shylock is unhappy because of the money he lost rather than his daughter. ‘A diamond gone, cost me two thousand ducats in Frankfurt! ‘ You must ask yourself does Shylock love money more than even his daughter or is he too passionate towards his religion?
What’s more Tubal also brings back news that Antonio’s ships have been ‘cast away’. Shylock becomes emphatic with joy. The fact that the ships will not return means that Antonio cannot pay him back. Therefore because of his bond, Shylock can take his pound of flesh and hurt Antonio. ‘I’ll plague him, I’ll torture him’. This is a real sign of malevolence and it gives you an indication of what shylock is capable of. It should also be noted that Shylock is not only capable of evil but he is very mischievous and persuasive. In the beginning, Bassanio and Antonio attempt to borrow money off Shylock as I have stated earlier.
What I did not state though, is that first of all, while they are arguing over the money, Bassanio calls Shylock ‘a villain with a smiling cheek’. He is trying to say Shylock is not as holy as he seems and goes on further telling Shylock that even ‘the devil can recite scriptures for his purpose’. A few lines later Shylock backs this up when convincing Antonio to sign the bond. All of a sudden, Shylock suddenly changes his tone, from being aggressive and offensive he becomes nice. He tells Antonio that he will forget all the abuse given to him and let him borrow the money and ‘take no doit’. Forget the shames that you have stain’d me with’.
But then he goes on and tells Antonio, as a joke (‘in merry sport’) if you do not pay me on that day I will take a pound of your flesh. ‘If you do not pay me on such a day, let the forfeit be nominated as an equal pound of flesh. Of course Shylock is not joking, but manages to put on a false face and convince Antonio to sign the bond. This confirms my idea that Shylock is mischievous and very convincing. When you come to the court scene, one must make their mind up about Shylock. It is a scene with much evil and hate but with much sympathy and humiliation.
The court scene is the most controversial of the entire book. Here, in the court scene you can really make your mind about Shylock. After this scene, one is able to make an accurate opinion on Shylock. When they present Shylock in the court, he is named the ‘Jew’. This is something that has continued throughout the book. Throughout the book, there is not even one incident where a Christian addresses him As Shylock. He is addressed as ‘fiend’, ‘Jew’, and more often than not ‘devil’ or an ‘evil soul’. This implies that he can never be accepted into their society and will always be an outsider, even in the court.
During the trial, Shylock is continually asked to be merciful and take the money. The duke tells him to sympathise with Antonio. ‘Pluck commiseration of his state’. In actual fact, if you were to be in Shylock’s shoes, is it possible to sympathise with Antonio, your mortal enemy who has and always will mock you? Even beforehand, Antonio realises there is no point in reasoning with Shylock as he recognises the pain he has caused Shylock to suffer. Furthermore, I think Antonio sub-consciously knows he deserves what Shylock wants to do to him.
Moreover, despite this, I think this is the point that some may find hard to stay sympathetic towards Shylock. His desire for revenge becomes too great and it becomes difficult to see a person within Shylock. This is no to say though that you cannot. If you were to take my opinion towards Shylock I would say that he has been taunted and hurt so many times by the Christians that he has become psychologically broken. As he has not been able to let out all his emotions, over the years his hate has expanded up to a point where now he has become a monster.
A monster created by the Christians and not by Shylock himself. During the court he repeats five times ‘I’ll have my bond’. It is obvious from this example that he is a mentally wounded man, driven by hate and anger. So from this, I find it very easy to understand his malevolence but less to sympathise with it. An Elizabethan audience would have been horrified at his behaviour and Shylock would have definitely been thought of as spiteful but once one has learnt to understand a person, you can get a better view of them. Hypocrisy, I think is the big issue here.
Whilst Shylock is preparing to take his pound of flesh, they ask for mercy many times and call him a ‘wolf’. They even insult him while pleading for mercy. This is quite ironic. Launcelot claims that if there were more Jews converting to Christianity, the price of pork would increase, as more people would be able to eat pork. Shylock is asked why he won’t be merciful and he answers it with a question of his own. He asks the Christians why they have slaves and treat them as ‘asses’. When they do he says, he does not tell them not to or ask why.
He tells the Christians why should he be merciful, when they are not. When there seems to be no hope, suddenly Portia enters the room dressed as a man to replace the defence lawyer. She explains how ‘mercy is a positive virtue’ and if God was not merciful no one would enter heaven as we are all sinners. Still Shylock refuses to be merciful and asks for his bond again. Bassanio asks her if they may change the law claiming ‘little wrong can do much right’. Portia refuses to do this though. Instead she offers thrice the money to Shylock more than once but he refuses it still.
Quite a lot of Sympathy for Shylock is lost at this point and more so when he refuses to let a surgeon stand by, meaning he would like Antonio to die. This is a very sinister act. His joy does not make help with his sympathy either as Portia announces he may cut the flesh. ‘Most learned judge! A sentence! Come, prepare! ‘ As he is about to cut the flesh though Portia then states one last thing. She tells Shylock that the bond contains no ‘jot of blood’. Therefore if Shylock were to spill a drop of blood all his land and goods would be confiscated.
She reads from the Venetian script and reads out that if ‘thou shed one drop of Christian blood’ he will be punished. Here the law is being used against him, as he is a Jew. The law even states one may not drop a jot of Christian blood, no Jewish. Even the Venetian law is prejudice. The law is weighted with religious bias. It is as if Being Jewish declines one of all ones rights. The law now is being used against Shylock rather than with. He has relied on it throughout the trial but now it is his enemy. He then decides to take the money instead in fear of losing his possessions but Portia tells him he must take the bond.
In the end he does not take Antonio’s flesh or the money but that is not all. The law states that if an outsider were to attempt to kill someone half their possessions would go to the state and the other to the person they attempted to kill. In this situation he is labelled an alien due to his religion. Now is the crucial point. Since the Christians had begged so much for mercy shouldn’t they show it now? They do not though and Instead Antonio gives him another choice. It is that half the money should go to Portia and so should the other when he dies. Not only this but he must convert to Christianity.
He is forced to take this offer and reaches complete public humiliation. Gratiano even makes him kiss the cross and the broken man has just shattered. One point one must think about though is the amount of mercy the Christians showed. Do you think what they have done is fair or are they just hypocrites? As a conclusion, Shakespeare in my view has put the whole Jewish society in this one man Shylock. He is trying to manifest the idea of Jews being prejudice against. I some places he is unable to do this because of his audience but overall that is the point he is trying to raise.