In this essay I will try to determine whether, in the Merchant of Venice, Shylock is portrayed as a victim or villain. The Merchant of Venice is set in Venice, which is positioned in the North East of Italy and is sometimes known as the “Queen of the Adriatic”; it has got this nickname for its strong naval power. The majority of people in Shakespeare’s era had no respect for Jews and the higher classes of society treated them as lower class citizens. The play was written at the time of Queen Elizabeth I and the people found in the audience would not sympathise with the character of Shylock who was a Jew.
The hatred towards Jews was so great that Shakespeare had to set this play away from England as, on a number of occasions Shylock is shown to be right in what he says or does and so by setting the play so far away people could disassociate themselves with the play since Jews were always seen to be wrong. I think that in this play Shakespeare tries to tell people to treat everybody as equals by showing sympathy towards Shylock and with Shylock’s speak in Act 3 scene 5.Christians hated Jews because they were almost always money lenders which was a job given to them because, by Christian rules they were not able to do it, Jews were rarely allowed to own land or take part in trade and so they had to take full advantage of lending money. In Venice at the time that the play was written it was mainly populated by Christians who lived in the centre with the Jews around the outside, they were seen as outsiders and demoralised because of their religion. In the play, Venice is seen to be very wealthy, this came about because of the strong trade routes through Venice.The first scene that Shylock is in is Act 1 scene 3, His first line is; “Three thousand ducats. ” This can be seen as the words of a man trying to make a living in the only job open to him or it could be seen as the words of a greedy man who will do anything to make extra money.
I think that in this part of the play he is shown to be an abused man because he makes a big thing about locking up the house and when his daughter does not do this he gets very annoyed, he ends up hitting his daughter in the argument, this shows how he feels he cannot trust anybody in Venice.By hitting his daughter he shows the extent of the importance of locking the door to protect their belongings. We are told how Antonio has publicly abused and humiliated Shylock; “He rails even there where merchants most do congregate.
” And; “you call me misbeliever, cut throat dog and spit upon my Jewish gabardine. ” this shows us that Antonio has obviously been spreading rumours and calling Shylock names behind his back. It shows that Shylock has been victimised.
Antonio also seems to be putting Shylock out of business; “he lends money gratis. ” this means that Antonio has been lending out money to people with no interest.Jews were often given jobs, which were hated by society such as moneylenders. To make money from this business they had to charge interest on the money they lent, if Antonio was lending money for free no one would ask to borrow money off Shylock, putting him out of business. In this scene we are also shown that Antonio does not particularly like Jews; “he hates our sacred nation” this is what Shylock says in the aside when he first meets Bassanio and Antonio.We are also told that Shylock is a villain when he says; “if I can catch him once upon the hip, I’ll feed fat the ancient grudge I bear him. this shows that Shylock is obviously planning something to get back at Antonio for all the things he has done to him. Shylock twists a Bible story to feed his needs Antonio remarks; “He is like a villain with the smiling cheek” Antonio is trying to say that this is not what the story was for, he has also recognised Shylock as a villain because of the way he has twisted a sacred story.
Shylock is then shown to be a true villain when he says; “let the forfeit be nominated for an equal pound of your fair flesh, to be cut off and taken from what part of your body pleaseth me. ” this is an evil bond but, nonetheless Antonio goes along with it.Antonio reveals that he has sent out all his money in ships to different countries and is expecting them all to return in two months time, it is not likely that they will all sink. From several scenes in act 2 we can see that Jessica does not like living with Shylock; “our house is hell, and thou a merry devil didst rob it of some taste of tediousness. ” this shows that even Shylock’s own daughter feels that he is a devil, and she would know him better than anyone else.
Then Lancelot shows that he does not respect Shylock, when Shylock tells Jessica not to open the windows Lancelot says; “mistress, look out at window for all this. this shows that Shylock is not respected either by Lancelot or Jessica. In Act 3 scene one Shylock starts as a victim.
Salarino and Solanio are picking on him as saying that Jessica is not his flesh and blood and so he responds with; “I say my daughter is my own flesh and blood. ” This gains him sympathy as a victim because by saying this he is saying that because she is gone, he feels a big part of him is missing, but Salarino says; “there is more difference between thy flesh and hers than between jet and ivory. ” this is saying that because she has left the Jewish religion she is no longer anything like Shylock.Then Shylock says; “he was wont to call me usurer; let him look to his bond. He was wont to lend money for a Christian courtesy; let him look to his bond. ” This is telling us that Shylock is going to stick to the bond and if Antonio does not pay him back in the time he will take his flesh. Salarino is horrified; “Why, I am sure if he forfeit thou wilt not take his flesh. What’s it good for? ” he cannot understand why Shylock would want Antonio’s flesh.
Shylock then says why he wants it; “To feed my revenge. ” He wants nothing more than to feed his revenge. Shylock also begins a plea for equality; “What’s his reason?I am a Jew.
Hath not a Jews eyes? Hath not a Jews hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affection, passions fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons? ” this is Shylock saying that everybody is the same but are treated differently because of their religions and this is not right. He also says; “if you wrong us do we not take revenge? ” this is Shylock telling the two Christians that they would want to get back at Antonio if they were in his position. To show how evil Shylock is he says; “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 appears to be telling us that Shylock would much rather have his money back rather than his daughter this also shows him as very greedy for money which shows us how much the pound of Antonio’s flesh would mean to him if he was ready to give up three thousand ducats for it.
In act 3 scene 3 Shylock is first portrayed as a villain; “I’ll have my bond. ” He says this three times every time Antonio tries to speak, then he uses the names he was called to his advantage; “Thou call’dst me dog before thou hadst a cause, but since I am a dog, beware my fangs. He uses the ways he was victimised to become a villain and says that Antonio better watch out. Antonio again tries to speak; “I pray thee hear me speak.” But Shylock says; “I will have my bond. ” another three times, reminding Antonio what is in store for him.
He then shows how villainous he is again; “I’ll not be a soft and dull eyed fool. ” This means that he is not going to show any mercy but will have exactly what he is owed. Then Solanio says; “It is the most impenetrable cur that ever kept with men. This means that Solanio thinks that the bond was an evil one to make, and if Shylock carries it out he cannot be human. In the start of act 4 scene 1 Shylock is victimised by the Duke; “The Jew. ” The Duke calls Antonio by his name but calls Shylock “Jew”, this shows that throughout the scene the Duke is going to be biased towards Antonio and his decision to do this will also influence the rest of the court, from this moment on Shylock is not having a fair trial, he is being judged in a Christian court and not a court of law, this shows Shylock as a victim and suggests he will not get what he wants.Then Bassanio asks; “Why dost thou whet thy knife so earnestly? ” Shylock replies; “To cut the forfeiture from that bankrupt there. ” This is obviously a villains action, he is doing it for effect, to scare Antonio and to show the rest of the court that he is serious about what he wants, it is at this stage that he looses the sympathy of the audience that he gained at the beginning of the scene.
Portia tells Shylock that she feels that he should be merciful but he says; “On what compulsion must I, tell me that. This is the actions of a villain not a victim, he is taking it much too far and seems that his only motive is revenge. When Portia asks Shylock to have a surgeon present Shylock says; “I cannot find it, ’tis not in the bond. “This shows at an even greater extent that Shylock is definitely a villain because if he is going to cut a great piece of Antonio’s flesh without a surgeon present he is surely going to bleed to death. But then Portia says; “If thou doest shed one drop of Christian blood, thy lands and goods are, by the laws of Venice, confiscated unto the state of Venice. This shows a loophole in the bond and a flaw in Shylocks plan since by cutting Antonio he will certainly shed blood. Shylock’s possessions are then confiscated for attempted murder of Antonio.
Antonio then makes a deal with Shylock that if he became a Christian and made a will leaving all his possessions to Jessica and Lorenzo he would not take his life. This leaves Shylock as a complete outcast from everybody because he has turned Christian and has been humiliated in court, also his Jewish friend Tubal walked out on him because he nearly cut flesh from Antonio.Shylock is left completely alienated from both Jews and Christians, he is left with what brought him down and lost him his money, Christianity.
This leaves the audience feeling sorry for Shylock and therefore leaving the image of Shylock as a victim. Shylock can be seen as a villain in the Merchant of Venice because he can respond so quickly to the insults thrown at him throughout the play. And victim because of the loss of everything near and dear to him, his daughter, friends and possessions.I think that the abuse Shylock seemed to suffer everyday pushed him to bitterness towards the Christian community.
At the end of the play Jessica, Shylock’s daughter sings a Jewish song, as she is welcomed into the Christian community to show the peace and harmony that she has found. This shows that Shylock’s downfall was not due to his being a Jew but was his evil villainous rage, while Jessica a Jew has found peace. Therefore I feel that Shylock was more of a villain than victim because it was his personality and how he felt was best to deal with people opposing him that lost him what he had.