To what extent do you feel that Shylock presented as a victim or a villain in the Merchant of Venice
In Elizabethan times, there was a lot of Anti-Semitism. Jewish people were not classified as important people so there were treated badly and in an inhuman way. The “Merchant of Venice” is classified as a tragi-comedy, although the mockery of Shylock is not particularly amusing. A real comedy should end in harmony and resolution. In Act I Scene III, Antonio is shown as a villain as Shylock is being victimised. “Many a time and oft in the Rialto you have rated me” Shylock has been insulted many times by Antonio. At this point Antonio is asking a favour to borrow money from Shylock.
Shylock takes advantage of this and does not give him the money straight away but mocks the accusations made towards Shylock. “You call me a misbeliever, cut throat dog”. These accusations de-humanise Shylock because he is called a dog. The language used is iterative as it is mentioned all throughout the play, portraying Shylock as an animal. “You that void your rheum upon my beard”. This is another form of disrespect to religion and tradition. This shows that Jewish people are small minority in Venice and they aren’t even treated as humans. And you foot me as you spurn a stranger cur”. Shylock is treated like an animal. Shylock wants revenge for all this. He gives the money to Antonio on one condition. If the debt was not paid Shylock would cut of a pound of flesh which means he would kill him.
“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 the most”. Now Shylock is playing the villainous role, but his desire for revenge seems justifiable, although a bit excessive. In Act 1 Scene II, Shylock is mocked by his servant Lancelot Gobbo. I should stay with the Jew my master who, God bless the mark-is kind of a devil”. “Certainly the Jew is the very devil of incarnation”. In Christianity, the word devil is a term of abuse. You can’t worship a devil. The servant accuses his master of being a devil. The language here describes Shylock as a devil so he is seen as abnormal and he is being demonised. Lancelot can not accept the fact that a Jew is his master. In those times Jews weren’t allowed to have more power over Christians. Shylock is victimised in this form of prejudice. “My master’s a very Jew. Give him a present?
Give him a halter” Shylock’s servant shows the uttermost disrespect for his master. This creates sympathy for Shylock as he cannot even gain respect from his servant. There is another point of view where Shylock is seen as a bad master hence the disrespectful reactions by Lancelot. “I am famished by his service” Lancelot accuses Shylock of not giving him enough food. Shylock is presented as a strict man. This creates hatred towards Shylock because he doesn’t care for his servant and he will let him suffer. As we go through the play Shylock is seen as a bad father, who always keeps Jessica indoors.
Jessica’s point of view shows that her father is cruel. “But though I am a daughter to his blood I am not to his manners. ” Shylock is seen to be strict and a bad father. In the video, Trevor Nunn makes Shylock hit his daughter. This adds to the cruel tendencies that Shylock contains. There is another point of view to be considered. Shylock is over protective because he has been victimised by Christians and he doesn’t want to expose his daughter to Christians who she might be victimised by. Jessica only thinks about herself and not what her father is doing for her.
He is right in some ways for locking Jessica up because she is the only relative of Shylock and he doesn’t want her to be influenced by Christians. He is also wrong as you cannot keep your child locked up in the house forever. He is a little too over-protective of his daughter. In Act 3 Scene I, we see Shylock’s brutal reaction to Jessica’s departure and betrayal. “I would my daughter dead at my foot, and the jewels in her ear! ” Hyperbole is used here to emphasise Shylock’s anger. He doesn’t respect Jessica’s decision. He just wishes she was dead and she had his money with her.
The quote also sends an image of the brutal and villainous side of Shylock as he wants his own daughter dead. This shows his ongoing disrespect that he has as seen with his servant Lancelot. Shylock is often made fun of a lot by the Christians. He is never taken seriously. “As the dog Jew did utter in the streets: My daughter! O my ducats! O my daughter! ” They mock the fact he has lost his only family and a lot of money. The animal image that Shylock is described as is effective, because humans don have as much respect for animals as they do for humans. This is iterative imagery.
This image is repeated many times. In Act 3 Scene I Shylock is seen as a more a victim but also a villain. “He hath disgraced me, and hindered me half a million, laughed at my losses, mocked at my gains, scorned my nation… ” He is mocked and thought of as inhuman. This shows how victimised he is. Commas are used in this text to list all the problems Jews have faced and it is effective as it shows his never-ending list of grief he has suffered. He shows his villainous side when he says he wants revenge. “And if you wrong us, do we not revenge? ” In Act 3 Scene II, Shylock refuses to accept the payment.
He didn’t want the money. He wanted to kill Antonio. “None can drive him from his envious plea of forfeiture, of justice and his bond. ” A Tri-colon was used to emphasise the point on how badly Shylock wanted his part of the deal, as agreed with Antonio. In Act 4 Scene I, Shylock is seen mostly as a victim by the Christian people. He is called a “stony adversary, an inhuman wretch”. This suggests he is incapable of responding as a human and being merciful. Mercy is shown as a Christian quality. Portia puts emphasis on mercy in the trial scene. “It is an attribute to God himself. Shylock’s character is contrasted to God’s character. Antonio is surprisingly calm and dignified. He could be doing this to show the flaws of the “Jew”. In the trial scene Shylock is seen as a cruel and blood-thirsty person. “The pound of flesh which I demand of him is dearly bought; ’tis mine and I will have it”. Here he is seen as a villain because he will not take the money but Antonio’s life. In the video, Trevor Nunn shows Shylock crying which gives us a different perspective of Shylock. The director does this to show the sensitive and emotional side to Shylock so he is not presented as a villain.
Shylock pleads for his bond because all he wants is justice against Antonio for failing to pay his bond on time. Shylock has gone through a lot of prejudice and problems caused by Christians so the director has made it seem that Shylock deserves to kill Antonio. In Act 5, not everyone is happy. The most obvious example in this play is Shylock as he has lost his wealth, his daughter and he has the option to convert to Christianity so he doesn’t die. He is mentioned of in Scene I by Lorenzo. “In such a night did Jessica steal from the wealthy Jew? The Christians seemed to have forgotten that Jessica is still Shylock’s daughter so they treat him as if he has no feelings. Jessica who had betrayed her father and married the Christian, Lorenzo, is also unhappy as she feels she doesn’t fit in with the other Christians. Jessica’s silence at the end of the play shows how unhappy she is. “I am not merry when I hear sweet music”. Trevor Nunn made Jessica cry for the majority of the last act. She also sang the song that she used to sing with her father. This shows that she is left out from the Christians and she doesn’t want to be one as she doesn’t like their way of life.
She also sings the song to show her guiltiness towards her father, which she has just realised. Jessica is slightly victimised by Christians as her father was. Now they both live in isolation as neither of them were content to be Christians. Shylock lives in isolation after the trial scene in Act 4. He lost his daughter, Jessica so he has no relative. He does not fit in any more with the Jews as he has betrayed his religion and he has become Christian. He does not fit in with the Christians as they still treat him like a Jew.
They still refer to him as an animal and Shylock is not seen as a normal human being. Jessica had been locked up in the house and she was isolated. Shakespeare had turned the table round and Shylock became isolated. There is another person who lives in isolation at the end of the play. That person is Antonio. His homosexual tendencies were not fulfilled by Bassanio as he is married to Portia, as seen in the video. Antonio found out that his ships were safe. The play is interpreted in different ways. We can see Shylock as either a victim or a villain as asked in the title of this essay.
Shylock has been victimised a lot by the Christians and he acts villainously. He tries to do the bad things to Christians which they have done to him. All he wants is revenge. But he is just one man fighting for freedom and he could be respected if a lot of Jewish people at that time follow in his footsteps, so he can be seen as a brave victim of this religious conflict. The message of the play is “The villainy you teach me, I will execute! ” The whole plot of the play revolves around revenge. Shakespeare points out that revenge must be taken for the cause of justice.