Described by many as the most complex character Shakespeare ever created, all view him as a greedy moneylender who cares little for his daughter and whose only concern is to receive his pound of flesh from a respectable merchant. Shylock is not just the stereotypical villain but in spite of this the audience might feel that Shylock is a dignified god fearing man who is driven to revenge by the callous acts of Christians and also the theft of his only child and earned money from a Christian.
Including when Shylock goes to seek justice he is degraded and dehumanised in front of his bitter enemies. However, in Shakespearean England anti-Semitism was rife. Jews were widely regarded as evil and the entire community had been expelled from England in 1290 and other countries shortly afterwards. They were not allowed to return until the mid-seventeenth century and therefore, there were no Jews in England in Shakespeare’s time. Jews were persecuted worldwide and forced to live their lives in ghettos.Order now
Audiences from Shakespearean time who were predominately Christians would have been delighted in viewing the Christians defeat him, where as in our today’s society is multicultural and diverse hence they may have a much different opinion on this topic. Depicted as a villain to many readers Shylock shows his hatred towards Antonio and Christians evident of this quotation where in the first scene he says in aside to the audience; ‘ 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; ‘ Act I Scene iii.
This shows that Shylocks reasons for hating Antonio are not only because he is a Christian and the way he treats Shylock and fellow Jews, but more so the fact that he lends money to people without charging interest, hence which adversely affects Shylocks livelihood. This open display of his greed and hatred makes Shylock immediately an unsympathetic character. Not forgetting the hatred of Jews in that society can also have lead to Shylocks dislike of Christians.
Furthermore Shylocks hatred for Antonio can also build up the dislike to Christians due to the fact that Antonio himself is a Christian, which portrays Shylock as narrow-minded, a characteristic associated with archetypical villains. Shylock also displays elements of belligerence in his refusal to ever forgive the Christians. We also learn of his intent regarding Antonio’s life; ‘ If I can catch him once upon the hip, I will feed fat the ancient grudge I bear him. ‘ Act I Scene iii.
In today’s society Shylocks hatred to Christians and Antonio’s hatred to Jews can be seen as a modern day racism, which in our society has serious penalties and consequences. However, in the Shakespearean society racism was widespread and one of many factors an average person would judge someone at first glance, would be their religion. This shows the unbearable amount of hatred inside of Shylock but where this hatred amounted from can be elaborated. Conversely it could be argued that Shylock has suffered a lot of racist abuse maybe more often than an average Jew in that society.
Shylock has been called names such as ‘evil soul’ and ‘dog Jew’, which portrays severe hatred to Shylock probably due to his occupation of money lending. Does this not show what Shylock would have to bear from fellow citizens? The reader is first introduced to Shylock in Act I Scene iii where the reader learns of the abuse he has suffered at the hands of the Christians. ‘ … many a time and oft In the Rialto you have rated me… Still have I borne it with a patient shrug… You call me misbeliever, cut-throat dog, And spet upon my Jewish gabardine… ‘ Act I Scene iii.
This shows how much Shylock has endured from haters. It is possible shown from the evidence of the racist society that the constant verbal abusers would have been Christians therefore it is understandable the hate arising within Shylock. It can also be understandable that a he intends to treat Christians the way they treat him, cursing and spitting on his Jewish gabardine. Is he not human to feel vengeance towards the Christians who hate him? However the immensity of his vengeance can only be assumed by the amount of times Shylock has been abused by a Christian.
This shows that there could be extra vengeance personally towards Antonio from Shylock because most of this abuse is from Antonio. Where without remorse, Antonio admits he would readily do this again. Surely no one could blame Shylock for being angry by this deliberate racism. In addition, Antonio lends money to people with no added interest alongside his business of ships and goods, whereas Shylocks only business is of lending money with added interest. Therefore many customers that could have gone to Shylock prefer to go to Antonio. This again can affect the livelihood of Shylock.
Furthermore, Shylock may find Antonio as a business competitor very threatening, therefore adding to his human competitiveness or dislike against Antonio. If Shylock is narrow-minded he may even believe that Antonio was purposely trying to put Shylock out of business. Shylock has been portrayed as being an archetypical villain due to his uncaring, rough behavior as a father to his only daughter. The reader first witnesses 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 and 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. ‘ Act II Scene v. This shows the relationship between Shylock and his daughter to be very weak, unloving and untruthful yet it to be very harsh and strict as well as brutal which coincides with strictness. Jews as a whole are known to be very family orientated people and were known to keep up their customs and religions.
They formed tight-knit communities and became known for their hard work, intelligence and business acumen, and this lead to them being mistrusted and resented. In Act II Scene v, Shylock becomes ironic in which he does not notice his daughter Jessica’s strange behavior – this scene takes place on the night she is due to elope with Lorenzo and Jessica appears to be rather nervous – showing that Shylock is not a very attentive father and family orientated as well as intelligent among family members. This states again how weak and broken their relationship really is.
Shylock could be considered to be very cold and brutal towards to his only daughter. Perhaps even Shylock is too preoccupied with generating yet more wealth to concern himself with his only daughter. This view of him as self-serving and avaricious is compounded by his reaction to his daughter eloping with a Christian. He is outraged that she has left and has stolen his money. He says; ‘I would my daughter were dead at my foot. ‘ Act II Scene v. Again Shylock portrays himself in an unsympathetic way, as vindictive and villainous.
He wishes for the death of his own daughter as the price for her treachery and even goes so far as to wish that the ducats were in the coffin with her dead body as evidence of what she has done. This shows Shylock to be a cold, heartless man, utterly devoid of parental feeling, who is focused purely on revenge and money. Antonio had accepted the offer with a lawyer present and a witness present therefore understanding the consequences in place after accepting such an offer. Antonio’s stubbornness caused himself to be in such a position.
Antonio wanted Shylock to feel defeated as he was very sure his ships would return from the sea to pay back Shylock’s money and make Shylock feel unsuccessful, however it never happened like that and Shylock demanded his pound of flesh when Antonio could not pay back his promise. By then Shylock is full of vengeance for everything Antonio had done to him and the loss of his money and only daughter. In Shylocks attempts to retrieve his debt by going to court. He his humiliated and dehumanised even more.
He endures many more anti-Semitic comments and many Venetian Christians refer him to as the Devil; ‘The Devil’,’Let me say ‘amen’ betimes, lest the devil cross my prayer, for here he comes in the likeness of a Jew. Act III Scene I. Here it shows his humiliation and dehumanisation even in court where there is to be justice. The word devil used which is a figure of evil and wrong doing. They call the devil an outcast of society and criminals who have done the most unthinkable crimes are called devils by the victim’s relatives and friends.
Furthermore, this kind of language to be used in the court of law,where there is supposed to be fairness and justice shows that Shylock had walked into the midst of blood hungry hounds ready to tear him apart, because of his religion. Also the devil in Greek is also known as the accuser or the slanderer. To be called a devil is the low of the low. Other names associatfed or similar to the Devil around the world are Satan, Asmodai, Beelzebub, Lucifer and/or Mephistopheles. Each word comes from either another religion.
Further more to be mentioned as walking as or belong side the devil, as said by the Christians ‘the Devil… here he comes in the likeness of a Jew’ is worse than being hurled abuse. More so the devil and its ‘likeness of a Jew’ being mentioned also portrays hate towards Jews. This gives an idea that they may not know Shylock, but because of his religion they are at first glance accusing him of being an outcast, which was previously mentioned in the essay. They also seek to torment him even when he is most vulnerable, such as when Jessica elopes with Lorenzo Salerio and Salanio they taunt him about his losses and mock him;
Shylock: ‘You knew, none so well, none so well as you, of my daughter’s flight. Salerio: ‘That’s certain: I, for my part, knew the tailor that made the wings she flew withal. ‘Act III Scene I. This proves how much Shylock is mocked and has to endure in his life, even after the people closest to him have deserted him. This also shows how open and unsecure Shylock feels as if there is no privacy in his life everyone he turn to knows about his happenings such as his daughter eloping and his money being stolen.
Shylock is not able to avenge himself upon Jessica, however seizes the oppurtinity to make the Christians suffer through Antonio instead. This, added to his hatred for Antonio as an individual, gives the perfect oppurtunity for revenge or retribution. Antonios ships sink and therefore he is unable to pay the money he owes to Shylock. This is the oppurtunity Shylock had been waitng for, his retribution towards Christians and Antonio. Shylock is determined that Antonio must abide by the bond they agreed on, which will definitly end with the death of Antonio.
The pound of flesh demanded by Shylock in the bond seems inhuman, yet despite many pleas of mercy from Antonio and Friends Shylock is still determined to have what he is entitled to by law. He sits ready with his knife, getting ready to cut the flesh himself in the open court room, he even refuses to allow a surgeon to be present. ‘Is it so nominated in the bond? ‘ Shylock is naive in the way that he believes that he can take on the Christians and win when the foundation of Venation law is designed to serve the best interests of the Christians. Shylock’s punishment is overly harsh with Antonio forcing him to convert to Christianity.
Shylock’s life is spared but he may be better off dead because he has nothing to live on, all his wealth has been distributed among his sworn enemies. Sterotypicaly it seems the villain is punished and the threat is over. Although Shylock pursues his revenge fervently he still has the audience’s sympathy because of the unfair and harsh punishment he receives. It strikes a modern day audience as grossly unfair that the severity of his punishment reflects not his crime, but his race. He is a victim of the Christians’ intolerance of other races and ideas.
In all, this essay believes that Shylock is merely a Victim who has the right to have vengeance for all he has suffered but instead had been humiliated a racist society in which a Christian will reep awards accusing a Jew. Furthermore, his only daughter elopes with a Christian which is also one of his persecutors. She steals his money and the ring his wife gave him. It seems justified that he should feel betrayed and hurt. Shylock only demanded a bond that Antonio had accepted to and it could be argued that if Antonio was not willing to die, then why did he consent to Shylocks contract or bond in the first place.
We can only guess at the way in which Shakespeare intended Shylock to be portrayed. He becomes throughout the play, an increasingly lone figure and is portrayed by Shakespeare to be in some ways very ‘human’. This essay feels that Shakespeare intended Shylock to be a victim, however it can also be argued that Shakespeare himself decided to show Shylock completely defeated at the end of the play, and to not even have his religion to hold on to, that indicates Shylock to be to an extent a villain; moreso this essy believes he was created to challenge the pre-conceptions and ideologies of the Elizabethan era.
In addition this essay believes that he is not a villain because he inspires too much emapthy in an audience to ever be that. Having said this, This essay feels that it is not productive for us to simply categorise Shylock as either victim or villain. Through Shylock, Shakespeare explores the way in which the line between the oppressed and the oppressor can become vague.