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    Shylock – Villain or Victim Essay

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    In the day of Shakespeare’s plays going to the theatre to see a play was often a very popular source of entertainment. People would squash into the globe to see the performance, and feel part of the action; cheering and clapping away. Also when they felt anger, it was seen as ok, to throw mouldy fruit or vegetables at the stage in disgust at the action taking place. The Merchant of Venice was 1st performed at the globe all those years ago and is still being performed today. The Merchant of Venice is set in Venice/Belmont, Italy.

    It would have been set there as not to offend the audience because I don’t think any of the spectators at the time would be from Venice. There for it isn’t possible for some of the actions in the play to upset or offend the culture of Italy at the time. Also being in Venice it cannot offend the legal system close to home. There are many themes and issues to the play such as friendship, marriage and relations (especially ones between father and daughter. I. e. -Jessica and Shylock). Also religion, law, discrimination and prejudice, control and power and the position of women are key themes in the play.

    While the play was 1st being performed the women were not allowed to act, so men had to wear women’s clothes, and pretend to be women. This sort of shows how women were treated then; unfairly in comparison to the men. But the main, central debate is still about Shylock and weather he is a villain or victim. Dustin Hoffman wrote: “is he tragic or is he comic? And of course he’s both. He’s one of the most complex human beings Shakespeare wrote”. And he’s very much correct, he plays the part of two characters, but a lot of people do think that he is one or the other. And by looking at evidence you can see him being one of the two.

    Some people believe that Shylock is blood thirsty, were as some believe he’s a godly and clean living character. In Act 1, Scene 3 we are introduced to Shylock, this is the 1st time in the play, were we can start to get an idea of weather Shylock is a villain or a victim. The 1st sign of him being a villain it the very first line he says. This shows what he is thinking about most. He says “3000 ducats well”. By saying this he is showing that the only thing on his mind is making money, and that he is obsessed with it. It is in this scene that Bassanio seeks Shylock out and asks to borrow money from him in Antonio’s name.

    Also in this scene do we learn of Shylock’s hatred for Antonio and the Christians:”How like a fawning publican he looks! / I hate him for he is a Christian”. Another sign of villainy is the use of repetition, Shylock does use a lot, and he says it in this scene- “ho, no, no, no, no”. Another sign of villainy is the thought of revenge, and he blatantly says him self, he is mainly in this bond for the revenge when he says he has an “ancient grudge” against Antonio. It seems a though he is agreeing to the bond, expecting Antonio to be unable to pay, and to see him dead, and the Christians unhappy.

    Perhaps he receives the terms of the bond in this manner because he is confident that he will be able to repay the bond. Shylock feels justified in exacting revenge upon Antonio because he blames him for all his problems and is bitter about the manner in which Antonio has treated him in the past. He is also resentful of the ridicule and torment of his race by the Christians. Through the bond he feels he will be able to avenge the treatment of his religion I think if Shylock thought Antonio would be able to pay him back, he would have not gone through with the deal. He is seeking revenge for all the poor treatment he has received from them.

    He also shows how much he feels he needs to be in control, another sign of villainy. When he says “Antonio shall become bound well” He wants to be in control of the situation, and for it all to come through. Also he says how much he hates the Christians, proving my point, saying he wants them dead. We also see Shylock as a manipulative type of character when he calls the bond a “merry sport”, which isn’t usual for a life threatening deal. “You call me misbeliever, cut-throat dog, and spit upon my Jewish gabardine” This line by Shylock on Antonio and Bassanio, is heavily implying that they are racist towards the Jews.

    We can see this appears in later scenes, in act 2 scene 8 Salarino and Salanio refer to Shylock as the, “Dog Jew”. And of course in those days (or indeed now) it would be seen as such a high insult to be called a dog. But he later brings this back on the Christians where he says “Thou call’dst me a dog, before thou had a cause/but since I am a dog beware my fangs” He is saying that seeing as they called him a dog before, he know has the right to act like one, and he joke saying “Beware my fangs” because he intends to have Christians dead.

    But as well as seeing Shylock being a villainous character, we also see him become a character who is a bullied victim. For instance, he says to Antonio how he has been insulted all his life- “many a time and oft in the Rialto you have rated me”. He would be thinking here why should he do a favour for someone who has insulted him all his life, and judged him also. And also he has been spat upon- “And spat upon my Jewish gabardine” He there makes him self very hurt and damaged. Which you could imagine he is. Also he actually offers Antonio his friend ship (Although whether he meant it or was again being manipulative is debateable).

    But never the less he does say to Antonio- “I would be friends with you”. Shylock also says how he is victimised- (definite sign of being a victim. )- “I am as like to call thee so again/to spit on thee again, to spurn thee too. ” I think that in this scene Shylock is immediately shown as a villain, but as you get to know him, you see that it is because he has been victimised before. In Act 3, Scene 1 Shylock is feeling a lot of emotional distress as he has recently heard of his daughter running away. Not only did she run away, but also she left with Shylocks Jewels.

    And to stir things up even more she went off with a Christian, one close to Antonio. So in this scene Shylock would be more the villain because he has been angered, and he will probably take it out on Antonio. And in the heat of the moment, he may say things he doesn’t really mean. He starts to damn his own daughter- “She is damned for it”. This shows he doesn’t love his daughter and he is damning her, saying he is almost glad she is gone, this is probably a cover up for the sad emotions he is feeling. Also there is another use of repetition he says “none so well” twice and “bond”.

    Also he says he wishes his daughter was dead- “I would my daughter dead at my foot, and the jewels in my ear” this really highlighting how angry he Is with his daughter, but when he says he wants his jewels back, maybe he is more concerned about his money, and jewels than his own family. There is also more repetition when he says “thank god” and “ill luck” twice. He shows how sadistic he is when he says “I’ll plague him, I’ll torture him. I am glad of it” This really does highlight how mean, and cruel he can be. Again in this scene, not only is Shylock playing the part of the villain, he also plays the role of a victim.

    Although he has an arguably unhealthy thirst for revenge, we can sympathise with what he is feeling because it is a natural human reaction to want to get revenge when you have been so badly treated. They seek to torment him when he is most vulnerable; for example when Jessica has eloped they taunt him about his losses and mock him, when I think he is probably concerned: “You knew, none so well, none so well as you, of my daughter’s flight” then Salarino says “That’s certain: I, for my part, knew the tailor that made the wings she flew withal”.

    When Shylock is under so much fire by the Christians he says: “My own flesh and blood to rebel! ” this really shows the issues that surround the father daughter relationship. I think here he was trying to get the attention and sympathy of the audience. However as it is a Christian audience it is very unlikely that this will happen. Salarino quickly fires back, “There is more difference between thy flesh and hers than between jet and ivory. ” Here he is saying that Jessica is nothing like you, she is more like a Christian.

    This is what sets Shylock off into a passionate speech, it is designed to gain the audience’s sympathy- “if you prick us, do we not bleed? ” this is simply a very small part of the moving speech, which is a huge cry for equality which was very radical. Salarino again continues it insult Shylock when he says “Lest the devil cross my prayer, for here comes in the form of a Jew”. He does show a lot of concern to his daughter, and where she is, he says “hast thou found my daughter” in a huge hope. And his anguish is powerfully shown when he says: “I had it of Leah”.

    In this scene, I would say that he is playing a huge villainous part, although the “hath not a Jew eyes” speech really would get the sympathy of the audience, and maybe make him seem more victimised. There is also a sign of him saying something which could go into either column, depending on what it meant. He again used repetition on the line “Precious jewels”. Now if he was talking about his daughter here, that would be seen as him being a victim, showing how much he cares about her, and is upset about his loss.

    But if he was actually talking about his money, then he would be seen as villainous, putting his money before his daughter. I think that Shylock gets driven to revenge by pointless execution. The next scene where we can depict weather we think Shylock is a villain or a victim is Act 4 Scene 1. Shylock is again presented as a villain. He walks in the court and places the scales of justice, on the table and takes of his gabardine. This was the only chance for shylock to have some justice, not just for the bond but also for how he has been treated all his life.

    The court is very one sided as soon as the judge says “Go one and call the Jew to the court” this shows the judge is biased because he calls Shylock be the name of his religion. The judge is blatantly influencing the court, with his own prejudice views. Shylock is in an unfair trial, he is a victim in the court because if his beliefs. Shylock wants his form of justice in his bond he made with Antonio. During the trial Shylock loses sympathy from the audience by his words and actions. He takes out a blade and starts sharpening it on his shoes showing no mercy at all.

    And he says about Antonio- “I would have my bond” he has no sympathy and all he wants is his bond, he will not accept money. He also seems very eager to kill him “Why dost thou wet thy knife so earnestly. He is ready to cut into Antonio’s flesh when Portia (dressed as dressed as Balthazar the judge) stops him and says “this bond doth give thee here no jot of blood. The word expressed are a ‘pound of flesh”. Portia reveals that if Shylock cuts Antonio and blood is dropped on the floor then Shylock is breaking the law. The bond Shylock had created has ruined his plan for revenge.

    With Venetian law saying that a penalty must be paid by a murderer attempting to kill a Venetian. Still Shylock is classed as an alien in his own home. Shylock’s possessions are confiscated because of the attempted murder of Antonio. Antonio humiliates Shylock by making two conditions for his life firstly he must become a Christian, and, secondly he must leave all his possessions to Lorenzo his enemy and Antonio, after he dies. Shylock is dishonoured and disgraced in the court scene, his only friend Tubal (also a Jew) walked out on him, as he ruthlessly cut into Antonio’s flesh.

    Everything and every one have left Shylock, he is destroyed by his own doings, and he is even isolated by his fellow Jews. This is where he is very much seen as a victim. But yet there are still more signs of him being victimised in this scene. He seems to have a cover up for offending the Christians he says he cant help offending them as he him self is so offended. After he has been defeated and humiliated he wants to get out of the court room, but they are almost not letting him, he says: “Give me my principle and let me go”.

    We see that near the start of the play Portia says: “I can easier teach twenty what were good to be done, than be one of the twenty to follow mine own teaching”. She is saying it is hard to practise what you preach, yet this seems to be very hypocritical at this stage because she has gone against her earlier emotions of having justice and mercy. Also we can see again this links back to earlier where she was wanting mercy because she wanted women to be equal to men, if she really believed in this she would treat Jews and Christians the same.

    Shylock is again viciously attacked by Gratiano once more, which is a big sign of racism. Again in this scene I would say he is mostly playing the part of the victim. In this scene there is a big presence of friendship from Bassanio to Antonio when he says: “The Jew shalt have my flesh, blood, bones, and all/ere shalt lose for me one drop of blood”, he is saying that he will take the pain for Antonio if he wanted, because to see his best friend die, would be enough pain.

    I think that Portia knew all the way along about the loophole in the law, and I think she was leading Shylock on to say things he didn’t mean, like how he would only accept his bond, no money or anything, later on, he would wish he didn’t say that because he indeed ends up loosing all his money and everything which is precious to him, including his right to stay with his own religion. Gratiano also mocks Shylock about his earlier speech were he says: “O upright judge! Mark, Jew, O learned Judge”. Shylock spoke similarly to this when he said “O noble judge! O excellent young man! – This was indeed only false hopes, as the discrimination to Jews really showed through from the judge and all Shylock had were very much false hopes. Although it seems as though it is mostly pay back, which seems unfair, as Shylock was the one who deserved revenge. As well as these 3 major scenes, there are other smaller parts where we can see if Shylock is villain or a victim. Such as in Act 2 Scene 2 we can see the Christians being racist which is a sign that they would later do it again. They were being racist to one of there servants called Lancelot. They said to him: “For I am a Jew If I serve the Jew any longer”.

    Also we see that in Act 5 Shylock is not there, this meaning that he cannot be the hero of the play, because the hero must be in the last scene, if he is indeed to be a hero. Although he is mentioned, and thought about. Another way, in which Shylock is established as a villain, is through his treatment of Jessica. It is in Act 2 Scene 5 that we first witness an interaction between Shylock and Jessica. During this he orders her about as if she were a servant and mentions nothing about her well being, only instructs her to look after the well being of his house: “Hear you me, Jessica: / Lock up my doors: and when you hear the drum…

    Nor thrust your head into the public street… But stop my house’s ears… Let not the sound of shallow foppery enter / my sober house. ” We can see in Act 2 Scene 8 Saleranio and Solanio are constant tormentors of Shylock and mock him at every opportunity: ‘ I never heard a passion so confused, / So strange, outrageous, and so variable, / As the dog Jew did utter in the streets in the streets: / ‘My daughter! O my ducats! O my daughter! ‘ Shylock used the words “O my ducats! O my daughter” earlier in the play, and they are bringing it up again, and using it to tease and mock Shylock.

    This is probably because Shylock was having trouble deciding on what he cared more for, and which he wanted back, which is ironic, because at the end, he had neither of those two and he also lost his right to believe in his own religion. I think that in conclusion Shylock is over all a victim. He is a Jew, and he suffers persecution from the Christians. For this he becomes bitter and resentful oh the Christians and sought to use his financial strength to damage Antonio and Bassanio (and the Christians in general). As Sir Peter Hay quite rightly says: “He becomes that which he most abhors.

    He’s torn to shreds emotionally by the society around him. He becomes the very thing that’s reduced him, that’s taken his humanity away”. Shylock can be seen as being all too nai?? ve, but a human character, on a strict religion who ends up being humiliated. It is clearly seen that in that day and age, Jews were not at all tolerated. I think because of the poor treatment that Shylock had received over the years, and I think that loosing his daughter was the final injustice. At the time of loosing his daughter and the jewels I think he would have probably said things which he didn’t actually mean, sort of in the heat of the moment.

    Those made him seem more villainous than he perhaps was. In the end Shylock did have a right to a pound of Antonio’s flesh, but seeing as the court was being run by Christians it was very much an unfair trial, he was mocked, and victimised. At the time I don’t think Shylock would get much or any sympathy from the audience at all, seeing as the audience would be mostly filled with Christians. After the trial Shylock was even forced to denounce his religion and was fortunate to not loose all of his belongings. Although Shylock was not in the final scene (Which the hero of a play normally is), but I think that his presence was felt.

    I think that all the way through Shylock was victimised and bullied, which may have made him say/do things which made him look villainous. It’s also a good idea to work out Shakespeare’s views on the Jewish. I think that he is aware of the racist attitudes, and by writing this play he wants to express his views. If he was a straight forward racist he wouldn’t have been given Shylock his great speeches which show how hurt and victimised he was. But he has conformed to society because shylock is still heavily persecuted. But over all I believe Shylock was a victim.

    This essay was written by a fellow student. You may use it as a guide or sample for writing your own paper, but remember to cite it correctly. Don’t submit it as your own as it will be considered plagiarism.

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    Shylock – Villain or Victim Essay. (2017, Oct 27). Retrieved from

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