Shylock: Victim or Villain?

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Task: Shylock: Victim or Villain?
From the book 'The Merchant of Venice.'
Written by William Shakespeare

Shakespeare sets his play within the 16th century. During this time Venice was a powerful city involved in trade and was a strong believer in the religion of Christianity. In the Merchant of Venice, Shylock is the only Jewish character, he is complicated, yet wise, and the one who gets tormented, mocked and humiliated in front of everyone.

The first time that the audience see Shylock is in Act 1, scene 3 during a business like discussion over borrowing money; three thousand ducats to be precise. Shakespeare may have chosen this to be the first sighting of Shylock for many reasons. One of the main ideas is that around the 16th century the Jews were money lenders, men who enjoyed making money and swindling the Christian men. Although they ran the risk of messing with the Christian law, greed and ignorance was present amongst many, including Shylock who ended up getting into grave trouble.

In some ways it becomes clear that Shylock is based on a stereotypical view of a Jew: that a Jew is obsessed with money. In addition the first scene is also one of the main scenes in which Shylock could be seen more as a victim. However Shylock doubts the security of Antonio’s ships, but he seems willing to lend the 3000 ducats. He tells the audience why he hates Antonio for a variety of reasons.

“I hate him for he is Christian. He lends out money gratis. Grudge I bear him. He hates our sacred nation”

This controversial and powerful statement is targeted towards the audience; Shylock is almost quoting it to tell his feelings and hatred towards Antonio. This is confusing as Shylock detests Antonio yet he still is willing to lend money to a Christian man whom he hates; Shakespeare may have done this to show Shylock a stereotypical view of a Jew. Then the audience is surprised again when Shylock...
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