Shylock is one of the main protagonists in Shakespeare’s ‘The merchant of Venice’. He plays an important role in the story as it is he who first lends Antonio money and the story spiralled from there. Throughout the story there are many occasions where Shylocks actions make him seem to be a villain but there are also occasions where he seems to be a Victim.
Shylocks character was wholly based upon a stereotypical Jew but this was not necessarily how Jews actually were. In the times when Shakespeare wrote this play there were not many Jews in England. This meant that Shakespeare would have had to of created Shylock from what others said Jewish people were like, from word of mouth. This helps to understand why shylock is mainly portrayed as a villain because in Shakespeare’s times Jews did not have a very good reputation.Order now
England was a very Christian country and Jewish beliefs were thought to be wrong and were scorned upon. This is probably why Shylock was portrayed as the ‘bad man’, Shakespeare would probably not have known a Jewish person and so created the character on what Jews were rumoured to be like. Shakespeare does, however, manage to make Shylock a very realistic character; he gives him feelings and sometimes shows that shylock can be a victim.
In the 16th centaury usury (lending money whilst charging interest) was thought to be wrong. It was thought to be wrong by Christians because through it people made money without working for it, Christian’s thought that you had to earn money not just be given it. This gave Jews a very bad reputation because they were usually the people who used usury to make a living. Shylock was no exception, he used usury and had quite a good life because of it but by doing this he brought a bad reputation upon himself. This reputation preceded him and would have made it almost impossible to be respected by Christians. Christians thought Shylock was wrong to do this and so he was thought by them to be a villain. Really he was just doing what he could to earn a living. This leads me to believe that the Christians were treating Shylock wrong and here he was a victim.
When Shylock lent money to Antonio he did not charge interest on the loan but he did set up a bond. The bond was that Antonio had to pay back the 3000 duckets within 3 months or Shylock would be able to have one pound of Antonio’s flesh. This bond may sound like a joke but Shylock was deadly serious. Generous he may have been not to charge interest but there was a more sinister side to the bond. When setting up the bond Shylock was taking a long shot at trying to kill and get revenge on Antonio. In the past Antonio had treated Shylock with no respect at all:
“You call me misbeliever, cut-throat, dog,
And spit upon my Jewish gaberdine,”
Here it shows how mean Antonio had been to Shylock. This treatment makes Shylock hate Antonio and all Christians. However it seems that this is not the only reason why Shylock hates Antonio:
“I hate him for he is a Christian,
But more for that in low simplicity
He lends out money gratis and brings down
The rate of usance here with us in Venice.”
This shows that shylock is incredibly greedy; he hates Antonio because he gives out loans without charging interest thus reducing Shylocks business. This shows what Shylock values in life, his money and business were his two main concerns. These two facts make Shylock seek revenge and here he shows his true intentions when lending the money:
” If I can catch him once upon the hip,
I will feed fat the ancient grudge I bear him.”
By saying this it really shows that Shylock wanted to take a long shot at getting Antonio, he knew there was only a remote chance of his plan working but because of his pure hatred for Antonio he was willing to take the chance.
This plot is clearly revealed to the audience watching or reading the play, it immediately makes Shylock seam to be a villain or the evil conspirer in the play. Shakespeare deliberately makes Shylock seem to be the ‘nasty character’, he may have done this because he didn’t like Jews and wanted to mock them but he also cleverly gives Shylock at least one none biased reason for hating Antonio. He looks at both sides of the culture clash and shows that Christians could be evil as well.
This particular conspiracy was not the only plot shylock tried to use. In the court, as the situation was starting to look bleak for him, shylock tried to use blackmail to persuade the court onto his side. He did this by threatening to damage the name of Venice’s justice system:
“And by our holy Sabbath have I sworn
To have the due and forfeit of my bond.
If you deny it, let the danger light
Upon your charter and your city’s freedom.”
This is definitely blackmail, he is basically saying that if he didn’t get what he wanted then he would tell many people outside Venice that it is corrupt and the law is worthless. This would have been a big problem for Venice as their trading would be affected and so it was a substantial threat. In the end the threat did not do Shylock any good as the lawyer representing Antonio was excellent and in the end the threats were forgotten as more serious claims were brought against Shylock.
Shylocks strict Jewish Faith and beliefs stopped him from socialising with Christians but it also pushed others away. Here I am referring to his daughter Jessica. Throughout her life she had her fathers beliefs enforced on her and she didn’t have a choice in religion. He treated her with no real respect and completely took her for granted. All of this drove Jessica away from her father; she did not care for Jewish ways but, at first, went along with it to please her father. She later fell in love with a Christian called Lancelot.
Even dating a Christian was strictly forbidden by the Jewish faith and so she was strictly breaking the rules. She decided that she’d had enough and that want to live with her father. She loved Lancelot, so she ran away with him. This alone would have been enough to break Shylocks heart but when leaving Jessica also stole a large amount of Shylocks jewels and money. When Shylock found out about Jessica’s actions he was outraged and made some very negative and characterising comments:
“…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!”
This shows how much he cared for his daughter; he would not care if she was dead as long as he had his jewels. This also shows how much of a miser he was; he valued his wealth above all else. This could just have been said in ‘the heat of the moment’; Shylock was very shocked and disgraced after having heard about what his daughter did and might have said things that he did not mean. The way that Shylock treated his daughter was not right, he did not give her any freedom and took her very much for granted but he paid for this severely by loosing both Jessica and his valuables.
Throughout the story Shylock was always the outsider and was portrayed as an alien. In the trial scene Shylock was not called ‘Shylock’ very often but was usually referred to as simply ‘The Jew’. Today this kind of discrimination would be regarded as racism and would seem very unjust. However, shylocks situation was very different. The out casting was probably because of his strict Jewish faith and he brought it upon himself. One example of this kind of behaviour from shylock was when Antonio invited him to eat with him and Shylock refused the offer very rudely:
“…I will not eat with you, drink with you, nor pray with you”
Statements like this made Shylock an ‘alien’, he created most of his enemies through his own actions. If he had been kinder and had tried harder to blend in more, to get on with people regardless of their religious background then the Christians may have been kinder towards him and maybe would have treated him better.
In the court Shylock did not come out with the outcome he wanted, in fact he got nearly the exact opposite to what he wanted. Antonio’s lawyer (Portia) was very good and managed to prove to the court that Shylock wanted to kill Antonio. This then led to Shylock receiving none of his bond and other punishments. These punishments were very harsh, they were that firstly Shylock would have to give half of his wealth to Antonio, the other half had to be given to his daughter and Lancelot when Shylock died and the worst punishment of all was that he had to become a Christian.
These punishments hit Shylock hard, his faith which he had devoted his life to had to be changed, he had to give his wealth to his enemy and to his daughter who betrayed him. I think that the punishments were a bit to harsh but I can also see that Shylock brought it upon himself. If he had not so relentlessly sought after getting Antonio then he probably would not have had any of the punishments.
Overall I believe that Shylock is both a victim and a villain. He is more of a villain though, he would not have been a victim in any case if he had not been so stubborn, arrogant and unkind in the first place. In some places the Christians might have been unkind but in most Shylock brought what he got upon himself, it was his own doing. The punishments in all cases were very harsh but as said before he did bring it all upon himself. I believe that he got more than he deserved for what he did but cannot give him any sympathy because it was his own fault.