How would you ask the actor playing Shylock to portray his character: as a villain, or as a victim

Shylock is a very complex human being, who you can feel sympathy and hatred for during the play. One of the examples of this is when Jessica runs away from home into the arms of a Christian, knowing that Shylock, her father will be left on his own, with no one to trust nor care. I feel very sorry for this poor old Jew. On the other hand, running away is a very brave decision for Jessica to make. How has Shylock driven Jessica to these emotions and actions, to a situation that leads Jessica to think that leaving is the only method in order to have a better life? Jessica also has mixed emotions when she knows that she may not be able to see her father ever again. However, hatred takes over her sympathy in this scene.

In Shakespeare’s time, Jews were openly persecuted in the society, even in public places. People, especially the Christians would humiliate them in public places such as Venice, where businesses transactions took place. Jews were seen as ‘ the lower class’ people in their community. Jews were treated very badly over the centuries and were seen as slaves. There were persecutions like the holocaust. Other nations have been trying to get rid of the Jews, as if they were some kind of disease. Jews were not allowed to do certain kinds of job, so, money leading was their most common occupation.

In Act 1 Scene 3, we see the differences between Christian and Jewish customs when Shylock refuses to have supper with Bassanio. He says ‘I will not eat with you, drink with you, nor pray with you.’ Shylock has had to endure insults of his nation and humiliations from Antonio in public. Antonio calls him ‘misbeliever, cut-throat dog’. Under all of these nasty conditions, Shylock has been through, it is understandable if Shylock wants revenge.

When Antonio asks for a loan, he does not show respect to Shylock at all as if it were actually Shylock asking Antonio for money not the other way round. Antonio describes Shylock as ‘ a villain with a smiling cheek, a goodly apple rotten at the heart’. What causes the apple to rot? It is the conditions, the surroundings that rot the apple.

Other than Antonio, Salarino and Salano are not sympathetic either. In Act 2 Scene 8, they mock Shylock’s distress as Jessica has fled with Lorenzo. They do not show any sympathy towards Shylock, ‘ the dog Jew’. They are criticizing Shylock caring about his money more than his daughter. However, none of the Christians feel sympathy foe Shylock, but ridicule his misfortunate.

Shylock has educated Jessica for years. Although it may not have been a great family for Jessica, it is very difficult to play both a father and a mother’s role at the same time and Jessica should have understood the difficulties better than anyone else. It is callous of Jessica to leave Shylock; very cruel to take the money and jewellery with her knowing that money is one of the most precious things, or even the only property that is left for her father. In addition, the money does not belong to Jessica, so why does she have the right to take it away? In this part of the play, Shylock can be seen as a victim.

Shylock makes a really good point in his speech in Act 3 Scene 1, as evidence for the interpretation of him as victim in this play. He argues, ‘ Why should Jews be treated differently, have not a Jew ‘hands, organs, dimensions, scenes, affections, passions?’. We are all human after all and therefore should treat others equally.

In Act 4 in the Duke’s palace, the Duke shows sympathy towards Antonio, he says’ I am sorry for thee’, which suggests that the Duke is on the Christian’s side, so how is this judgement fair? Secondly, when Portia releases Antonio from the bond, she is not satisfied, she wants revenge, she heaps financial penalties and humiliation on Shylock. Worst of all, they make Shylock agree to change to a Christian. Religion is spiritual. Nobody has the right to convert anyone’s religion, as this is a part of our soul.

On the other hand, Shylock is prejudiced when he says ‘I hate him for he is a Christian’. He is just as insulting back, being prejudiced towards any Christian in sight. He wanted a pound of flesh as a payment from Antonio. In other words, Shylock wants to kill Antonio, and he wants to get rid of him. A pound of flesh is far too extreme as a payment. It is understandable if Shylock uses this chance for revenge, but there are many other ways. However, he chooses the cruellest way. Shylock calls it ‘a merry bond’, as if killing were just a game for him after all.

Jessica is ashamed of her father and wants to escape from him. She has been isolated from the community, especially the Christians for all her life as this is the way that Shylock treats his daughter. He orders Jessica,’ lock up my doors; and when you hear drum and the vile squealing of the wry-neck’d fife, clamber not you up to the casements then, nor gaze on Christians fools with varnish’d faces’ Jessica has probably been isolated since she was born. After all these years, all she has is Shylock and Launcelot, she has not had a proper friendship. Under these conditions, running away may be the only chance to ‘end this strife’.

In Shylock’s famous speech in Act 3 Scene, not only is he suggesting that he is taking revenge on Antonio, but as if the whole Jewish nation is against the Christians.’ If you wrong us, do we not revenge?’ He uses ‘We’ and Us’ but not the ‘Me’ and ‘You’. Shylock is totally against any relationship between the Jews and the Christians as we can tell from the fleeing of his daughter, Jessica. When Shylock meet Tubal, he seems to be more concerned about his ducats and diamonds than Jessica. He does not even care how Jessica is, but only about his money. He wishes his daughter were ‘ dead by his foot’. Being together for all these years as a father, is he not concerned about Jessica’s happiness? Or maybe Shylock has not been being like a father and has not even considered Jessica as his daughter but his responsibility after all.

In court, Shylock feels strongly about carrying out his bond. He insists several times that he will have his bond. Rejecting anyone’s persuasion, hanging on to his revenge. In this scene particularly, it is showed that Shylock likes watching people suffer, especially his enemy. Hating a person does not mean that you want to get rid of him and watch him suffer. Shylock’s attitude towards Antonio is beyond hatred. Shylock refuses to take the six thousand ducats instead of the pound of flesh even though the flesh is absolutely useless. Shylock is certain about carrying out his bond, he sharpens his knife in the court. He carries this bond without showing any mercy, not even to an injured person as he refuses to consider a surgeon for Antonio’s wound as if he were desperate for Antonio’s death.

As I have mentioned before, both shadows of both victim and villain can be seen on this character. I suppose the villainous side of Shylock could be seen more in the in Shakespeare’s time, but most people nowadays find it difficult to judge whether Shylock is a victim or a villain. However, to me, Shylock is more a victim in this play.

If I were the director of this play, I would ask the actor to play Shylock’s part as a victim by speaking his lines softly and full of sorrow. For example when Shylock says of Antionio, ‘ I hate him for he is a Christian’, the actor would sound as if Antonio has forced Shylock to hate him. In Shylock’s famous speech in Act 3 Scene 1, the actor could express his pain, in order to gain the audiences’ pity.

Jewish people have been persecuted for centuries, treated unfairly in societies. There is no exception in Venice and Belmont. Because of the unfairness of the community, anyone, even the kindest heart would be hardened. Shylock has always known the cruelty this society has towards the Jews. Being brought up in the country has made Shylock a cold blooded person, who is always wanting revenge. This is natural, whereas forgiving seems to be unnatural for human beings. Having said this, Christians should be more aware of this forgiveness as they are told to forgive in their bible. The Christians in ‘The Merchant Of Venice’ are not good examples of their religion either. Should not a Christian take Jesus as their guideline in every day’s life, and so persecuting, criticising and humiliating an example of Jesus? Shylock never does anything would harm anyone, so why does Antonio see Shylock as his ‘enemy’? Shylock is mean, but after this humiliation and persecution, who can blame Shylock of being cruel? He is just trying to defend himself, by hurting others before being hurt.

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