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Shylock, a Victim of Himself in "The Merchant of Venice"

By lisicong Sep 04, 2010 805 Words
In Shakespeare's play, The Merchant of Venice, the character of Shylock proves, ultimately, to be a victim of himself. Shylock brings about his own demise through his own deeds and misdeeds. Shylock begins to cause his own misfortune when Antonio approaches him for a loan to aid Bassanio in courting Portia. At first, Shylock is wary to lend Antonio the money. "I am debating of my present store...I cannot instantly raise up the gross of full three thousand ducats...Tubal...will furnish me (13)". Shylock realizes that he does not have the money on hand to lend to Antonio, and instead of turning Antonio down for the loan, he plans to borrow the money from another. Shylock is so intent upon binding Antonio, that when he himself cannot fulfill the request, he risks his own reputation simply for revenge against Antonio. He insists upon having a consequence if Antonio cannot repay the debt. "...let the forfeit be nominated for an equal pound of your fair flesh, to be cut off and taken in what part of your body pleaseth me" (16). Shylock is so eager for this opportunity that he doesn't think about the specifics of the bond between he and Antonio.

Another detail that Shylock overlooks is Antonio's good reputation and trustworthiness. He panics when he realizes there is a more than likely chance that Antonio's ships will come within the allotted time of three months. In order to secure his victory, he decides to plant rumors among the local gossips of Venice.

The first rumor is of a destroyed vessel by the French and English. "...in the narrow seas that part, the French and English there miscarried a vessel of our country richly fraught" (38). The second rumor is of another destroyed ship carrying wealth. "...Antonio hath a ship of rich lading wracked on the narrow seas...a very dangerous flat and fatal" (43). Not only is Antonio rumored to have two destroyed ships at sea, but also they both seem to have been wrecked in the same place. The English Channel is described in both quotes as "...the narrow seas that part..." (38), and "...on the narrow seas..." (43). As Shylock learns, seemingly for the first time, of this news he is terribly delighted. "I thank God...Is it true?" (46). Shylock seems to be beside himself with excitement over the news of Antonio's lost ships. However, his excitement is truly over the fact that his rumors are spreading and he is winning the upper hand within the bond.

However, things do not continue to go well for Shylock. In the last scene of the play, Portia explains to Antonio that none of his ships were ruined nor lost at sea, and that they were all bound for Venice within the coming months. "...you shall find three of your argosies are richly come to harbor suddenly" (93). This proves that the ships were merely delayed and the rumors of the wreckage and sinking were false.

The final showing of Shylock's self-induced misfortune comes about in Act IV, Scene 1, when Portia discovers Shylock's mistakes and uses them to Antonio's advantage. Portia questions Shylock about the bond, or more specifically about the pound of flesh. "Tarry a little...this bond doth give thee here no jot of blood; the words are expressly are "a pound of flesh." Take then thy bond, take thou thy pound of flesh; but in the cutting it if thou dost shed one drop of Christian blood, thy lands and goods are, by the laws of Venice, confiscate unto the law of Venice" (76). Portia allows Shylock only a pound of Antonio's flesh and nothing more. This does not include the shedding of Antonio's blood, an oversight previously made by Shylock. Unfortunately, since Shylock cannot carry out the bond without breaking the laws of Venice, he must submit to the consequences. "It is enacted...if it be proved against an alien that by direct or indirect attempts he seek the life of any citizen, the party `gainst...shall seize one half his goods; the other half comes to...the state..." (78). Portia tells the court that the conditions stipulated in the bond constitute as attempted murder upon Shylock's part, and the he must give over half his goods to Antonio, and half his goods to the state. His attempts to secure his victory over Antonio prove futile, and Shylock loses more than he bargained for.

Shylock's sad misfortune is in no way undeserving. Through his lies, mistrust, and underhanded deeds, he does prove to be an unscrupulous businessman who deserves the legal actions coming to him. However, Shylock truly only brings harm upon himself by ignoring the details and possible

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