I think that the role of Shylock remains a popular one because Shylocks character can be open to interpretation. He can be played as a merciless old miser or as a persecuted bitter old loner. I don’t think that I would class him as neither a villain nor a victim, as he is a Jackal and Hyde sort. Throughout the play we see various sides to Shylock. We see him as a greedy moneylender, a Jew who is suffering from anti-Semitism and we meet many other personalities of his.
Many reasons that have led me to believe that Shylock is a victim are his daughter, Jessica, ran off with all of his treasures and money. Not only that but she ran off with a Christian, one of the things that he is against as he is a Jew, she not only stole from him but went against his beliefs too. Even though I feel sorry for Shylock because of this, I still think he over-reacted when he wished Jessica dead at his feet. I don’t know whether it was because he was enraged about her stealing off of him or because she ran off with a Christian.
Another reason why I regard Shylock as being a victim is because he was refused Antonio’s pound of flesh even though he should have received it because of the bond they made. I think this is unfair because even though Shylock was expecting a lot, i.e. Antonio’s life, Antonio shouldn’t have made the bond if he wasn’t prepared to take all of the consequences after and then took Shylock to court because he wasn’t prepared. When they were in court Portia and Nerissa lied so that not only Antonio would win back his pound of flesh but Shylock would be left with nothing and just about keep hold of his own life just because he expected what they both had agreed in the bond.
Also, another reason in which I think that Shylock is a victim is because during the court case he is forced not only to give up his belongings but his beliefs too, i.e. he is expected to convert to Christianity which is immensely unfair! Whilst in the court, Shylock is offered the money he lent back but refuses. When he knows he is definitely not going to receive the pound of flesh he changes his mind and decides to accept the money. But it has been decided that because he already refused the money he cannot change his mind. I think that this is very unfair as Shylock has been expected to change his religion but he cannot change his mind about money.
Also, Antonio and Bassanio wanted to borrow money off Shylock, so you would expect them to treat him fairly so that he would lend them the money. But instead of treating him that way they treated him like something that they had trod in by spitting at him, mocking him, calling him names etc, I feel sorry for him here and regard him as a victim who is experiencing racism.
I feel immensely sorry for Shylock, not only as he had everything that he has worked for in his life taken off of him, he’s not even allowed to believe in what he thinks is right. Something, which he has spent his whole life believing and following and as thought of as the truth but is expected to convert to Christianity and lead a life of what he believes is, lies.
The reasons, which have led me to believe that Shylock is a villain who deserves everything he gets, are that he insults Antonio by saying: –
‘How like a fawning publican he looks! I hate him for he is a Christian!’
This shows that not only is Shylock a racist but it shows that he has stereotyped all Christians into one category and believes that they are all scum just because they believe in something different to him. Another reason why I believe he is a villain is because he must have treated Jessica very badly for it to result in her running away and stealing off of her own father. He wouldn’t even let her be in love with a Christian just because he had stereotyped them all into a group of worthless humans. I think she only ran off so that she could be with the man she loved and cherished and only stole off of her father to pay him back for not letting Jessica be with Lorenzo.
Also, a reason why I regard Shylock as a villain is because he wanted Antonio dead and was willing to act upon this to get what he wanted by blackmailing Antonio into sealing a bond for one pound of Antonio’s flesh if he didn’t pay back the three thousand ducats. Obviously this pound of flesh was going to be Antonio’s heart and there was a very large chance that Antonio’s heart would be taken off him because all of his fortunes were at sea.
A reason that has had a big impact on me believing that Shylock is a villain is that he is racist towards Christians. He expresses his hate for Christians by saying that he will not sit at the same table with one etc, it’s as if he is saying he is superior to Christians and therefore cannot share anything and probably only shares the same air as them because he has to!
Another part that shows his hate for them is in Act 2 Scene 5 where he says: –
‘To gaze on Christian fools’
This shows he judges all Christians by just one or two Christians he has met compared to the millions of other Christians there are.
I consider Shylock to be extremely two-faced. I see this as being a part of a villain’s personality. In Act 1, Scene 3, Shylock conveys that he is too good for Christians but in Act 3, Scene 1, he pleads for his humanity by saying: –
‘Fed with the same food,
Hurt with the same weapons,
Subject to the same diseases,
Healed by the same means,
Warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer,
As a Christian is?’
He is now pleading that he is as equal as any Christian but earlier in the play he is saying that he is superior to them, he is contradicting himself.
Overall, I think that Shylock is neither a victim nor a villain. I think I have reasoned both sides fairly and have shown that I’m undecided because throughout the play Shylock makes me feel both sympathetic and hatred towards him.