How far is Shylock a character for whom we can feel sympathy? How would a contemporary audience's response to him differ from that of an audience in Shakespeare's time?
Shylock isn't a character for whom we can feel much sympathy for because he always seems to be thinking about himself and his money rather than other people around him. Through most of the play he seems selfish, and it seems in some parts of the play as though he doesn't care about his daughter. He also has a very strict religion, which also sometimes makes him seem as an uptight character.
Although he sometimes does try and be a good father to his daughter such as in act 2, scene 3. This is where he tells her to lock the house up and to keep safe from the masque, but even part of this act to his daughter was to make sure no Christian men would come into his house or anything get stolen. Through the whole of the play the audience keeps changing their sympathy for Shylock, pitying him one moment and hating him the next. Some people would call the audience's feelings to Shylock a kind of roller coaster of sympathy.
Also in act 2, scene 8 Salerio and Solanio are talking about the way Shylock reacted to his daughter leaving. Solanio said that Shylock had said:
My daughter! O my ducats! O my daughter!'
This quote makes the audience feel a tiny bit of sympathy for Shylock as it shows how he feels awful about how he has lost his daughter and money at the same time. Solario also goes on to say:
Stolen by my daughter! Justice! Find the girl! She hath the stones upon her, and the ducats!'
After this is said the audience will feel a lot less sympathy for Shylock as it seems he only cares about finding his daughter because she has the ducats with her and the only way to get back his ducats etc is to find his daughter. Although he only cares about his ducats the audience might feel sympathy for him because that it was his own flesh and blood that stole the ducats from him. So Shylock would feel quite betrayed by this.
In act 3, scene 1 there is a lot of evidence that shows Shylock valuing money over his daughter. Shylock had said in this scene:
I would my daughter were dead at my foot, and the jewels in her ear; would she were hearsed at my foot, and the ducats in her coffin.'
This shows that he would rather see his own daughter die than lose his money and jewels. This is a very selfish act and will make the audience feel a lot less sorry for Shylock. Some of the audience might not even feel any sympathy for Shylock at this time in the play. Also during this scene Shylock is told that Antonio's ships might be ship wrecked. This is when Shylock then says:
I am very glad of it - I'll plague him, I'll torture him I am glad of it.'
This quote shows him as a very ruthless and horrible man because of the very strong words used like plague' and torture'. The audience will think that Shylock is a man who would rather have revenge than have his own daughter back.
Also later in this scene Salario and Solanio had been talking rudely to Shylock, one thing they had said to Shylock was:
There is more difference between thy flesh and hers than between jet and ivory.'
This would have made the audience feel sympathy for Shylock. Then Shylock says his long speech (this speech is said to be the most famous speech in the whole play). This part is the most relevant of the speech:
I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions?
This will make the audience feel a lot of sympathy for Shylock because the audience can now see why Shylock might be the way he is. Shylock might seem like a villain in the play because all of the people who have treated him he has tried to fight back to, such as the bond between him and Shylock. The audience will feel sorry for him because that people do not treat him in the play the way that he should be treated. Shylock also says:
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