Lord Lyttelton finds Shakespeare a dramatic genius par excellence. “He (Shakespeare) painted all chara cters, from kings down to peasants with equal truth and equal force”. “The Merchant Of Venice” shows that he is an astonishing artist and his deep insight into the human heart is par excellence.
“The Merchant Of Venice” is famous, not only for the beauty of the language but also for the beauty of characterization. Shylock, the Jew is one of the inconceivable masterpieces of Shakespeare’s characterization. The critics hold two different views regarding the character of Shylock:
(a) that Shylock is a master of wickedness – an absolute villain.
(b) that he is a person “more sinned against than sinning”, i.e. a great and noble character and almost a martyr.
The truth, however, lies somewhere between these two extremes.
Shylock, as depicted in the play is a man with sharp intellect. Nobody in the play can match Shylock in intellect. Even Portia could not have outwitted him, had she not consulted Dr. Bellario. We get an example of Shylock’s intellect right from the time Bassanio approaches him for 3000 ducats, Shylock becomes sure of Bassanio’s necessity through repeated questions:
“Three thousand ducats – well.
For three months – well.”
He conceives a foolproof trap and ensnares his sole enemy easily. Even during the trial he shows his understanding of law. His arguments are convincing. He is defeated only when he becomes unfuarded due to his fits of joy and confidence of victory.
Shylock has always been viewed as a devil or villain. But he is a man with some moral sense. He never tells a lie. He doesn’t abuse Antonio or anybody. He does not rob or swindle anybody’s money. He is not addicted to wine, gambling, women or anyother vice. His only immorality as viewed by the Christian is lending money on high interest. But this was his profession and an act of charity for the Christian state if seen in pure economic terms.... [continues]
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