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Shylock A Villain Or Victim Essay

The Merchant of Venice: Is Shylock a Villain or a Victim? Essay

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In this essay I will try to discover is Shylock a villain or a victim, in the William Shakespeare play “The Merchant of Venice”

It is difficult to say if Shylock is a complete villain or a victim, as his character is complex and ambiguous. However, it is difficult to view Shylock as anything other than a devious, bloodthirsty and heartless villain in the majority of the play. There are a few points in the story where he can be viewed as victimised, as most Jews were at that time, but Shakespeare has purposely portrayed Shylock as a stereotypical Jew, greedy, and obsessed with money. Shylock has been written to be very inflated and exaggerated. Even when Shylock makes his first appearance in the play, his first words are “Three thousand…show more content…

Although Shylock is hurt by the theft of his turquoise ring by Jessica, given to him by an old love (Leah), such shows of human feeling or emotion are under numerous, and he seems more concerned with his material wealth, than his own offspring. It was probably this attitude that frustrated his daughter and made her determined to escape him. Even his own servant Lancelot describes him as, "The Jew is the very devil incarnation,"

Shylock certainly is victimised by the Christians, Antonio spat in his face, Solerio and Solanio constantly mock him, for his religion and misfortunes. "As the dog Jew did utter in the street: 'My daughter! O my ducats! O my daughter!'" Act 2, Scene 8. However, it is hard to say if the characters treated all Jews like Shylock , as he is only one of two Jews in the story (The other Jew, Tubal, only has dialogue with Shylock) and perhaps Shylocks victimisation is due to his own behaviour, and his religion only used against him as a tool for attack.

“The Jew,” Shylock, as he is referred to throughout the play, does make some good points, and shows his discontent at the treatment of his people, in what is probably the best and most well-known part of The Merchant of Venice, Act 3, Scene 1: “He hath disgraced me (Antonio), and hindered me half a million, laughed at my losses, mocked at my gains, scorned my nation, thwarted my bargains, cooled my friends, heated mine enemies – and what’s his reason? I am a Jew.” Shylock

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As your question suggest, he's both.

He's disgracefully treated by the Christians: they mock his religion, refuse to trade with him, spit on him in the street, and - even in the trial scene - mock him and taunt him to his face. Throughout the play he's referred to as "Jew" rather than "Shylock", and you can see why he longs to "feed fat" his grudge against the Christians.

He is devastated when his daughter...

As your question suggest, he's both.

He's disgracefully treated by the Christians: they mock his religion, refuse to trade with him, spit on him in the street, and - even in the trial scene - mock him and taunt him to his face. Throughout the play he's referred to as "Jew" rather than "Shylock", and you can see why he longs to "feed fat" his grudge against the Christians.

He is devastated when his daughter leaves him, without any warning, and without any evidence of negative behaviour towards her from him (she says "this house is hell", though the scene doesn't make it clear exactly why she feels like that). Shylock is, I think Shakespeare makes it very clear, a victim.

He is also a villain. He deliberately opts for the "pound of flesh" because he has a grudge against Antonio, and, when the chance comes to get his revenge, he behaves in an extremely undignified and certainly unmerciful way. He gloats in front of Antonio, even attending the gaoler who arrest him, and openly proclaims his right to the flesh, against any sense of common humanity, in a public court. He also values his money extremely highly - not negative in itself - but, when he seems to value his ducats more than his daugther, you have to be suspicious. He's undoubtedly also a villain.

You can make a case either way. For me, I'd argue that he's both at once: though like the Wittgenstein duck/rabbit, at any one moment he seems one or the other.

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