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Is Shylock a Victim or a Villain?

The Merchant of Venice’s character “Shylock the Jew”. Discusses whether he was subjected to problems at the time, or if he caused problems for other people.

Throughout the play: The Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare juggles with the idea of Shylock being either a villain or a victim. At the time the Merchant of Venice was written, Jews were neglected and abused by Christians. This is reflected in the Merchant of Venice, although the audience of the play is made to feel sorry for Shylock at times, such as when Jessica, Shylocks daughter, elopes with a Christian.

With this said, Shylock is driven to into such a state of rage that he seeks to take Antonio’s life. This is why in the end he seems to be portrayed as a villain. But is he really a victim or a villain?

In these sets of examples, Shakespeare uses language and scenarios to suggest Shylock is a victimized character. In the following situations Shylock is victimized by others around him because he is Jewish. In the Merchant of Venice, Shylock speaks of how he is offended by Christians and the names he is called by them. This is around during the time when then the bond is first made. Shylocks’ daughter, Jessica elopes with Lorenzo and takes his money, jewels and family honour. This throws Shylock into a state of rage. This is where Shylock starts to act out on his villainous side. A quote made by Antonio states “the devil can cite scripture for his purpose”. This clearly makes the link between Shylock as someone akin to the devil.

Shakespeare sets up numerous cases of Shylock being victimized than those previously stated. Shylock is a victim of business due to the fact that Antonio lends out money gratis. It brings down the rate of interest in Venice and this means that Shylock is not able to make money because all the people who borrow it, end up going to Antonio instead. In court after Shylock loses his case, part of his punishment as well as monetary Owings is to become Christian. At this point, Shylock is basically defined as a villain, but because he is constantly ridiculed and humiliated by Antonio his revenge could be understood somewhat.

Shylock’s victimization is also contrary to the fact that Shylock can also be seen ass a villain. He clearly seeks to kill Antonio by taking a pound of his flesh. Antonio and Bassanio interprets Shylock bond at first as a bit of a joke. But when Shylock is thrown into a state of rage when his daughter steals his goods, he decides to act out on his bond. A quote by Shylock says, “ He lends out money gratis and lowers the rate of usance here in Venice”. This quote tells us that Shylock’s villainous actions if acted out would benefit him greatly in his business.

In the Elizabethan times, quotes like “ I hate him for he is a Christian”, would have provoked the audience. This is why Shylock would have been regarded as a villain as well during this era. Shylock speaks carelessly about the loss of Antonio’s fortunes and sailors as sea, which demonstrates the spitefulness of Shylock. The real turning point of Shylocks evil doings is when his daughter Jessica runs away and takes all his wealth with her. Shylock quotes that he would “have his daughter dead at his feet” if he could. This provokes him into craving his bond and truly becoming villainous.

In conclusion Shylock is interpreted as an unfortunate victim but also as a vindictive villain. Had Jessica not left he may have stayed within reason of right and wrong. Because Shylock ends up being a greedy man, audiences remember Shylock as more of a villainous character than a victim, especially because he tried to kill Antonio. To attempt to take a man’s life is a lot more serious than simply calling him names or spitting on him. This is why Shylock is regarded as a villain.

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