Shylock: Villain or Victim

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Shylock: Victim or Villain?

He is a Jewish moneylender who earns his living by charging interest on money he loans (like modern banks). He often speaks prose in the play, which marks him out as an outsider. He is persecuted by all the non-Jews he knows:

He tells Antonio, "suff'rance is the badge of all our tribe". He is verbally abused and bullied by most characters in the play and is called cruel names including "villain with a smiling cheek, cut-throat dog, bloody creditor, damned inexecrable dog". He is clearly an intelligent businessman:

He is very astute and is aware of other people's concerns - he knows all about Antonio's business ventures. The main reason he hates Antonio is financial: "I hate him for he is a Christian; / But more, for that in low simplicity / He lends out money gratis". So, why does he make such a strange agreement with Antonio, asking for a pound of Antonio's flesh instead of interest if the loan is not repaid within the arranged time? Does he genuinely want to be friends with Antonio when he says "I would be friends with you, and have your love"? He is Jessica's father. His daughter hates him and calls him a "devil". We see him being impatient with her and ordering her around. When she runs away, he seems as upset about the loss of his money as her: "My daughter! O my ducats! O my daughter! ... My ducats and my daughter!" It would seem that Shylock cares for money more than anything else. Yet in an often forgotten moment when Shylock finds out his daughter traded his wife's ring for a monkey he cares only for its sentimental value. "Out upon her! Thou torturest me, Tubal: it was my turquoise; / I had it of Leah when I was a bachelor: / I would not have given it for a wilderness of monkeys". He wants revenge:

Perhaps it is the loss of Jessica as well as all the harsh treatment he has suffered from Antonio - and others - over the years that makes him bitter enough to ask for Antonio's pound of flesh. He cleverly argues in Act III, scene 1 that he is as much a man as a Christian is and so will follow the example the Christians set by seeking revenge. "The villainy you teach me I will execute". He is thrilled to hear that another of Antonio's ships is lost, making Antonio more vulnerable. "I thank God, I thank God. Is it true, is it true?" He is very confident that he will win, telling Antonio while he is in prison,"Thou call'dst me dog ... But since I am a dog, beware my fangs". He knows that the Venetian justice system will have to support him and so relishes beating Antonio at his own game. He resolutely refuses to listen to all the pleas for mercy during the trial scene (from the Duke, Bassanio and Balthazar), insisting all the time on justice and his pound of flesh. Do you think this is this a sign of strength or foolishness? He could have pardoned Antonio and shown himself to be morally superior - but would this have done him any good in the long run? Caught out by Portia, by the end of the trial he has lost all his money and has to suffer the humiliation of being forced to become a Christian. Shakespeare doesn't give Shylock any lines to tell us how he feels. How should he react? We never find out what happens to him. Weighing up all you know about Shylock, do you consider him to be more avillain or a victim?

Is Shylock a Villain or Victim?

Summary: Shylock, is the most noteworthy figure in Shakespeare's comedy, The Merchant of Venice. While no consensus has been reached on whether Shylock is a tyrannical villain or a tragic victim, evidence indicates he is a bloodthirsty villain.

Antonio's counterpart, Shylock, is the most noteworthy figure in Shakespeare's comedy, The Merchant of Venice. No consensus has been reached on whether Shylock is a tyrannical villain or a tragic victim. Shylock, in my opinion, is a bloodthirsty villain. In the following paragraphs, it will be shown that Shylock is a villain in every sense of the word. Namely, he is vengeful, very materialistic and...
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