In the Merchant of Venice Shylock is portrayed as both a victim and a villain. Shakespeare shows that he is firstly a villain as he is spoken about in a conversation between Salarnio and Salerio. They describe him as “dog Jew,” automatically we see him as the bad man of the play. We then sympathize with Shylock as he tells us how he was poorly treated, ” You call me misbeliever, cut throat dog, and spit upon my Jewish gabardine.” He states that Antonio had looked down on him, spat on him, turned his friends against him and prevented him from making business for the simple reason of being a Jew. Remembering in recent history of the Holocaust we sympathize with him.
When the time comes that Antonio asks a favour of Shylock he immediately seeks revenge. In case Antonio does not pay back the 3,000 ducats that he is to borrow Shylock demands “an equal pound of your fair flesh off and taken in what part of the body pleaseth me.” Here our opinion of Shylock is a negative one, as he wants his flesh as pay back and a pound of flesh would be of no use to him.
Our opinion then becomes stronger of Shylock being a villain as Jessica his daughter talk of living with him is like hell, “our house is hell and thou a merry devil.” From this we understand that she does not like her father’s actions and what he believes in, which is that Christians are bad “I’ll go in hate to feed upon the prodigal Christian.”
Shakespeare then makes us feel sorry for Shylock as his daughter Jessica runs away taking his ducats with her. “My daughter! O my ducats!” showing more concern for his loss of money he appears a greedy villain “two stones, two rich and precious stones, stolen by my daughter! Justice!” We later find out that Jessica had also stolen his wife’s ring in which Shylock would consider priceless and then she bought a monkey with it. At this we feel remorseful as it meant a lot to him and his daughter probably knew that, then buying an animal for her own amusement. At this point we class Shylock to be a victim, left with no money, between lending to Antonio and his daughter thieving off him, he is ruined.
Shylock then hears news of Antonio’s ships, and is delighted that it is wrecked, as then Antonio would not be able to pay him back. Then whiles talking too Salarnio he asks what use to him is the pound of flesh? Shylock answers ”to bait fish.” This makes you think that what a pointless way to want flesh. He then says that a Jew is a lot like a Christian they have the same hands, organs, dimensions as humans, eat the same food, feel the same pain, hurt with the same weapons and so on. He justifies his intentions to have vent ion by saying that if a Jew was to wrong to wrong a Christian they would seek revenge and therefore if a Christian was to wrong a Jew he should do the same. We are then left to make our own opinions of Shylock.
Shakespeare makes us feel sorry for Shylock and not appearing racist making us feel like he is picked on and that he’s the real victim. Shylock is adamant “I will better the instruction,” meaning he will not change his mind in the taking of the flesh unless something seriously prevents him, and will do more than what the Christians have taught him.
During the court scene Shylock refuses to show any sign of mercy towards Antonio. Because of that we get the overall impression that he is heartless, self-centred and cruel. Also when he is given the option to have a surgeon at hand. He refuses, as it is not in the bond. Yet again showing no mercy as then no one can save Antonio from bleeding to death.
Confident in himself “I stand for judgement,” and is also confident that the law is on his side. To his surprise the judge (played by Portia) found loop holes and shows no mercy just as he had done. His three penalties for attempted murder are to give half his fortune to the state, the other half to Shylocks daughter and son in law and lastly and most importantly to become a Christian. At this point you do feel sorry for him as he is left with nothing not even the satisfaction of revenge, and also he is forced to become what he most hated, a Christian. He is also alone where as Antonio has his friends to see him through tough times. But then again you can also say that Shylock got what he deserved for being so cold-hearted.
Shakespeare ends the play to make our own opinions of Shylock. I think that even though a misunderstood character he is still a very cruel man. Poorly treated by Christians may had turned him bitter but being stripped of all his possessions I do feel sorry for him. Therefore in my opinion Shylock is a villain. I say this because he wanted revenge in one man for cultural reasons and religion for what had happened to him in the past. Also he enforced his beliefs in his actions towards Jessica from the way he talked about Christians as bad people and stopped her from seeing the party’s and other social gatherings, which in the end caused her to run away. Not forgetting that he also showed no mercy and would had been heartless enough to kill Antonio.