Why Shylock Is a Complex Character

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The way a character gets its reputation is affected by the way the reader and other characters view them, and that perspective can change at any point throughout the storyline. In Shakespeare’s play The Merchant of Venice, Shylock is presented as the most developed character. Shakespeare purposely creates both an antagonist and protagonist in Shylock, by creating a change in view for the reader throughout the play. He can be viewed as a hated Jew that is often referred to as a villain, a devil, and a money obsessed freak, but a sudden change of personality tends to always occur. We first see Shylock as a person who chooses everything over money, but later we find out that there are in fact some things he places above money. In act one scene three, however, the reader’s first impression of Shylock is he is a victim of bullying and anti-Semitism until we later discover Shylock has a different side of him when he demands for flesh. This reflects Shylock’s speech in act three scene one, where Shylock stands up for himself and creates sympathy for the reader opposed to the impression of Shylock we gain from other characters’ point of view. THESIS ___________________________________________

Topic Sentence______________________________________________- Shylock makes it clear he has a designated hate for Antonio, but only because he does not respect the anti-Semitism and disrespect Antonio creates towards Shylock. He goes on to say how much he hates Antonio’s behavior. Shylock says, “He hates our sacred nation, and he rails/…/ Cursed be my tribe/ If I forgive him!” (1.3.44-48).

Shylock uses these quotations of his soliloquy as an opportunity to express rejection of ever forgiving the Christians, but particularly Antonio. He continues to explain that Antonio hates the Jews, and uses bitter and offensive language towards Shylock and the members of his religion which Shylock does not respect in any matter. Shakespeare makes this message clear to the reader by using connotation. The word that stands out most beyond doubt is hate, which creates feelings of anger and negativity. Sympathy for Shylock is then aroused because of the impact Antonio’s hate has on Shylock, and strengthens the speaker’s feelings to a point where the reader looks at Shylock in a perspective of a victim of anti-Semitism. This reflects Shylock’s speech in act one scene three where Shylock brings in evidence that Antonio has said and done numerous things to cause a tense relationship between the two. Antonio has done all things from spitting on Shylock’s beard and Jewish robe, kicking him, and calling him a dog and a misbeliever. Shylock states, “Still I have bourne it with a patient shrug,/ For sufferance is the badge of all our tribe.” (1.3.105-106). Shylock uses this quotation directed at Antonio to explain that although he is being insulted by Antonio, he will just shrug it off because him and the other members of his religion are used to being singled out for persecution and are used to suffering. The audience of today’s time period see that Shakespeare makes good use of the word sufferance to create a vivid visual for the reader of what Shylock goes through on a daily basis and to show the reader that Shylock is a poor victim of anti-Semitism and bullying. This really creates a view of sympathy for the reader and allows the reader to look at Shylock as a protagonist and Antonio as an antagonist.

The perspective of Shylock as a protagonist suddenly changes when Shylock agrees to lend Antonio the three thousand ducats Bassanio needs in order to impress Portia. Shylock’s hate for Antonio is no longer expressed from Antonio’s unnecessary behavior, but in a matter of cruel revenge. Shylock exclaims, “Be nominated for an equal pound/ Of your fair flesh, to be cut off and taken in what part of your body pleaseth me.” (1.3.145-147). This explains that Antonio will need to pay the price of a pound of flesh if failed to pay the three thousand...
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