Shylock, a miserly Jew is considered a bloodthirsty bogeyman in The Merchant of Venice. However, he is treated disgracefully by the Christians through their mocking his religion, refusing to trade with him and spitting at him on the streets. In the play, he’s insultingly called a “Jew” rather than by his name. Therefore, Shylock is, as Shakespeare clearly portrays him, a victim not a villain.
Shylock is the play’s antagonist because of his villainy and miserly habits but he also had suffered cruelty at Christian hands. His revenge is motivated by having been treated unfairly as a result of his religion. Shylock is introduced as the central villain in the play, but differs from the usual villain in that his hate is a response to the unkindness of the Christians. Our sympathy for Shylock is based on the brutal treatment he receives from Antonio. After Antonio asks a favor of him, Shylock vividly expresses the depth of Antonio’s contempt; “In the Rialto you have rated me about my moneys and my usances…You called me a ‘dog’ and for these courtesies I’ll lend you thus much moneys?” (117-138) Shylock lives in a society in which Jews are simply rejected and thus the audience can’t help but feel compassion for him. Even before the action of the play he was an outcast as he was criticized and spat upon by the Christians. Therefore his actions and vengeances are understandable most judge his intentions as purely evil and don’t attempt to understand his position fully. “I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? Fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases….And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that. If a Jew wrong a Christian what is his humility? Revenge. If a Christian wrong a Jew, what should his sufferance be by Christian example? Why, revenge! The villainy you teach me I will execute, and it shall go hard but...
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