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Shylock a Victim - Merchant of Venice

By GelyahS Jun 02, 2013 1108 Words
William Shakespeare is likely the world's most famous playwright. He is considered a genius for his skill with words, his understanding of people and of human nature, and his sense of what really pleases an audience. In Shakespeare's play, The Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare uses his great skill in writing to make a character appear as if he is both a villain and a victim. A victim can be defined as an unfortunate person who suffers from a destructive action or through the dishonesty of others. Although Shylock is viewed by Christians in the play as a cruel man, Shylock is a victim because he is mistreated, betrayed and his possessions, culture and dignity are taken away from him, all because he is a Jew.

Shylock is a victim of the play because he is mistreated. Shylock is being abused by Christians but mostly Antonio. Shylock says, “You call me misbeliever, cut-throat dog, / And spet upon my Jewish gaberdine, / And all for use of that which is mine own.” (1.3.107-109). Shylock shows through these lines that Antonio abuses him verbally and physically, as Antonio calls him names and spat on him, all because he lends money with interest. Another example of Shylock's mistreatment is Christians insulting his faith. Lorenzo says, "If e'er the Jew her father come to heaven, / It will be for his gentle daughter's sake." (2.4.33-34). Lorenzo believes that Christianity is the religion that is powerful enough to make anyone go to heaven. In these lines Shylock is viewed by Lorenzo as a faithless Jew, he is implying that Shylock's Jewish faith is not strong enough to get him to heaven. Therefore, Lorenzo is biased against anyone that is not a Christian, such as Shylock being a Jew. Also, Shylock is humiliated in court. He is looked down on by Christians during the trial.

Before the Duke begin the proceedings he says,
I am sorry for thee: thou art come to answer
A stony adversary, an inhuman wretch
Uncapable of pity, void and empty
From any dram of mercy.” (4.1.3-6).

Through these lines it shows that the Duke feels pity for Antonio because of Shylock and describes Shylock as a non-human. It appears that the Duke feels more sympathy for Antonio. One reason is because Antonio is a fellow Christian.

Shylock is being betrayed throughout the entire play. When Jessica elopes with Lorenzo, a Christian, taking all of Shylock's ducats and jewels with them, Shylock feels really deserted. Shylock says, "My own flesh and blood to rebel!" (3.1.31). Even though Shylock seems to value his ducats more than his daughter, Shylock shows through this line that he also feels deceived by knowing that her one and only daughter turned against him. Another example of Shylock being betrayed is when Shylock is betrayed by his own bond. When Shylock is ready to take his revenge by cutting Antonio's flesh, Portia says, "For, as thou urgest justice, be assured / Thou shalt not have justice more that thou desir'st" (4.1.312-313). Portia suddenly reminds him that the bond only states a “pound of flesh” and doesn’t mention blood. Shylock can take his pound of flesh but reminds him that if a drop of Christian blood is been spilled, he will be considered guilty for taking the life of a Venetian and by law he will be punished. Portia’s conditions made Shylock and his bond powerless at the trial. Shylock expects to get his revenge on Antonio, but it turns out to be that his bond has been turned against him. Near the end of the play, Shylock is also betrayed by the laws of Venice. When Shylock realizes that his bonds is useless, he changed his mind and agrees in taking three times the sum of what Antonio owes him instead. When Shylock knew that he can’t get anything, he drops the case but Portia stops Shylock reminding him of the penalty which results in the laws of Venice giving Shylock a horrible sentence because of threatening the life of Antonio. Half of Shylock’s property would go to the state and the other half for Antonio, Shylock is also in danger facing the death penalty.

Shylock becomes even more of a victim when the government of Venice takes Shylock's possessions, culture and dignity away from him. Antonio says, So please my lord the duke, and all the court,

To quit the fine for one half of his goods,
I am content so he will let me have
The other half in use, to render it,
Upon his death, unto the gentleman
That lately stole his daughter.
Two things provided more, that, for this favour,
He presently become a Christian;
The other, that he do record gift,
Here in the court, of all he dies possess'd,
Unto his son Lorenzo and his daughter. (4.1.377-387)

Since he has plotted against the life of Antonio, the law says one half of his possessions must go to Antonio and the other half to the state. Antonio shows through these lines that he is willing to give mercy to Shylock and allows him to keep half of his fortune, provided that Antonio keeps the other half in trust for Jessica and Lorenzo after his death. Another example of Shylock being a victim is his culture taken away from him. Antonio states that Shylock must immediately convert to Christianity as a part of his sentence. During the trial, Portia says, "Down therefore and beg mercy of the duke." (4.1.360). He was advised to practice mercy but insisted on the law. Now, through this words by Portia, Shylock must beg for mercy rather than a strict interpretation of the law. All the people who are present during the trial have seen that Shylock is shamed.

In the play The Merchant of Venice, Shylock is a victim. He is simply rejected by the people in his society. They treated Shylock as if he is not a human being because he is a Jew. Shylock is harmed by the hurtful words and actions of the people around him towards him and his faith, he is also betrayed by his own daughter, bond, and by the laws of the city in which he lives, and Shylock was shamed in court, as a part of his sentence he must surrender half of his riches and the other half will go to his daughter after his death, and he must convert to Christianity immediately.


Shakespeare, W. (2003). The Merchant of Venice, I. Waldron & M. Maitman, Eds.

Toronto: Harcourt Canada.

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