Shylock: Villain or Victim
The Merchant Of Venice is the story about a merchant by the name of Antonio who borrows money from a Jewish moneylender by the name of Shylock, in order to fund his best friend Bassanio’s romantic ambitions. The majority of the residents of Venice during the time this story was written were Christians, just like Antonio. At the same time there was a considerable amount of hatred toward those who were not Christians. Antonio needed money quickly and he had no other choice then to borrow money from Shylock. Jewish moneylenders made profit from charging interests. Since the Jews were very successful with their business, Christians were resentful towards Jews. Christians were prejudice because they didn’t want Jews to become wealthy. This shows Shylock being victimized in the play, as all Jews were back in the sixteenth century, even thought Shylock is not a very nice individual. As an audience we see Shylock in two different ways, as a villain and as a victim, whereas in the play most of the other characters just see him as a villain the whole time. In this essay I am going to explore if Shylock is a victim or a villain.
Throughout the play Shylock is presented as a victim. One major way that we see Shylock victimized in this play is during the first scene in act three. During the scene he tells the audience about the abuse he has suffered from Christians in general and from Antonio in particular. "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 by the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us do we not laugh? If you poison us do we not die, and if you wrong us hall we not revenge” (III.i.48-55). It makes us know that Shylock is greatly affected by the discrimination that he suffers. He is saying that Jews are just like Christians and tries to justify his revenge on Antonio, portraying himself as a victim of discrimination and makes us pity him. The speech carries on by pointing out the similarities between Christians and Jews; he asks lots of rhetorical questions which show that the only difference between Christians and Jews is religion. Shylocks' very articulate speech wins us over, his audience, and allows him to sink to their level: he wills, he vows and his behavior is just as malicious as theirs has been. At first, we sympathize with the Jew, whose right to fair and decent treatment has been neglected by the Christians, that he must remind them that he has “hands, organs, dimensions, senses” similar to theirs. Then Shylock’s next pledge to behave as badly as they have: “The villainy you teach me I will execute, and it shall go hard but I will better the instruction,” this shows us that Shylock is coming back worse then he has ever been before. Even thought we understand his motivation, I don't believe we can excuse the endless continuation of such villainy. In the courtroom, Shylock loses everything that he had, including his religion, as he was forced to convert to Christianity. It was the worst punishment for him, because religion was important to him, and he hated Christians. He may have spared his life, but asking him to convert is as good as asking him to die. The laws at that time were mostly in favors of the Christians, the Jews had little right to anything. They could not claim inalienable citizenship in any country, causing Shylock to be in the wrong, "It is enacted in the laws of Venice, if it be proved against an alien that by direct or indirect attempts he seek the life of any citizen, the party `gainst the which he doth contrive shall seize one half of his goods, the other half comes to the privy coffer of the state"(IV.i.559-565). It seems as if the punishment he received was meted not according to his crime, but according to his...
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