Shylock: Villain or Victim
It is without doubt that William Shakespeare’s suspenseful play of The Merchant of Venice evokes complex feelings within a reader. Throughout the play, Shylock is portrayed as the antagonist, a miserable, cruel and prosaic figure menacing enough to endanger the happiness of Venetian citizens. At the same time, one feels a curious compassion for this character. In the 2004 film of The Merchant of Venice adaptation starring Al Pacino, Shylock is portrayed as a justifiably angry man: he is hated by Venetians; despised for his religion, culture and occupation; and betrayed by his daughter. Certainly, Shakespeare has succeeded in blurring the distinction between villain and victim.
Initially, Shylock is introduced where Bassanio seeks Shylock’s help and asks to borrow money from him in Antonio’s name. Shylock displays elements of hatred and belligerence in his refusal to forgive Antonio and Christians. This is evident in his speech: “How like a fawning publican he looks! / I hate him for he is a Christian” (Act 1, Scene 3). The fact that Shylock is hiding his hatred beneath a façade of friendship in order to entice Antonio to become indebted to him, not just with money but with his life (“a pound of flesh” as the terms of a loan agreement), shows that he is devious and cunning.
Secondly, Shylock’s attitude towards money and human relationships is scrutinized when he’s response to his daughter’s (Jessica) elopement shows that he values his money more than his own blood. This is justified when Solanio tells us that Shylock screamed “My daughter! O my ducats! O my daughter! / Fled with a Christian! O my Christian ducats!” (Act 2, Scene 8). Next, Shylock mistreats Jessica by keeping her captive in her house. The fact that his daughter considers her home to be hell by calling Launcelot (Shylock’s servant) a “merry little devil” and also stating that her father is Satan emphasizes his villain nature.
Furthermore, Shylock is established...
Bibliography: Shakespeare, William. The Merchant of Venice. Ed. Roma Gill. New York: Oxford
Shakespeare, William. "Merchant of Venice". (Washington Square Press, New York, 1957) p. 30.
Shmoop Editorial Team. "Shylock in The Merchant of Venice" Shmoop.com. Shmoop University, Inc., 11 Nov. 2008. Web. 3 Apr. 2012.
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