Merchant of Venice: Is Shylock a Victim or Villian? Essay
Shakespeare Merchant of Venice Essay I have been studying the play The Merchant of Venice written by William Shakespeare. The play genre is drama and it is set in the late 1590s. It is set in two cities Venice and Belmont. The play is about usury between a Christian and a Jew. The Christian is a man named Antonio, who is The Merchant of Venice. The Jew is a wealthy man called Shylock who is facing a lot of religious rivalry at the time. Antonio’s friend Bassanio comes to him to ask for money. Antonio agrees, but now has to borrow money himself, as all his money is invested in his ships and trade.
Bassanio wants the money so that he can sail to Belmont to his love Portia, a rich and beautiful heiress, and ask for her hand in marriage. Shylock and Antonio are already enemies, but Shylock agrees to lend 3000 ducats on Antonio’s bond. Shylock then offers a ‘fake’ bond, being a pound of Antonio’s flesh if the loan wasn’t repaid in 3months. Antonio agrees to this despite Bassanio’s wishes. This essay will look at whether shylock is a villain or a victim. A reason to argue that shylock is a villain is when he hears news of one of Antonio’s ships crash on the rocks. Shylock almost celebrates.
Here shylock is illustrated as cheerful that Antonio will lose money, Shylock now has the feeling he will win the bond. He starts to make plans for Antonio’s forfeiture. “I am very glad of it, I’ll plague him, I’ll torture him. I am glad of it. ”(Act3, Scene1) When Shylock is speaking here his dark side is revealed. He shows he is jubilant that his bond taking place nicely and Antonio, a Christian, will go into ruin. Shakespeare is trying to highlight Shylock’s hate for Antonio and how anxious he is to get ‘his’ pound of flesh. A second reason to think that Shylock is a villain is in Act4 Scene1.
Shylock makes it clear that he no longer wants repayment of Bassanio’s debt of 3000 ducats or Bassanio’s offer of 6000 ducats. He would prefer his pound of flesh from Antonio instead, since now he sees Antonio as the source of all his miseries and confirms his desire to make Antonio pay for this. “If every ducat in six thousand ducats were in six parts, and every part a ducat, I would not draw them, I would have my bond. ” (Act 4, Scene1) In this act Shylock is given the chance to free Antonio and gain more money, than was agreed in the bond. The message Shakespeare is trying to get across is hat when a bond is made it is treated as an oath and seen till the end. Especially this bond which is made between a Christian and a Jew. Antonio’s life depends on Shylocks choice and he made his choice clear. Shylock is full of hate in this present time and believes getting the flesh from Antonio will feed his revenge. Another reason to say that Shylock is a villain is when Antonio goes to him for the money. Shylock looks at Antonio’s credit rating, so that he can reassure himself that he’ll get his money back. “Supply your present wants, and take no doit of usance for my moneys- and you’ll not hear me. (Act1, Scene3) Here Shylock agrees to lend out a loan, but will not charge any interest. They both agree to the conditions of Shylocks ‘fake’ bond. Antonio only agrees as he is completely sure his ships will reach the shore first. Shylock appears to be generous here as he isn’t charging any interest. Although this could be seen as part of his plan to lure Antonio in. One last reason to think that Shylock is a villain is in Act4, Scene1 in the courtroom scene. This is when court is called to witness the dastardly bond between one Antonio and Shylock. Antonio is getting ready to lose a pound of his flesh.
While Shylock is preparing his ‘equipment’ he will use. He sees this as an act of good as he is doing it under the permission of the Law of Venice. “My deeds upon my head, I crave the law, the penalty and forfeit of my bond. ” (Act4, Scene1) In the court Shylock sees he is doing no wrong as he has permission from the law. He demands he have his ‘justice’. Again Bassanio offers the amount of triple the amount of money and Shylock again refuses. Bassanio then offers himself instead of Antonio. Yet Shylock again refuses and says the bond and forfeit stay as they were.
Shylock is clearly portrayed here as the villain as he is refusing every offer Bassanio is throwing at him. Shylock is begged by everyone to show Antonio mercy. Shakespeare makes Shylock ruthless and cold in this act, which makes us think he truly is the villain of this play. I will now look at the reasons as to why Shylock is the victim of this play. A reason to believe Shylock is the victim is when he goes to dinner with Bassanio, (Act2, Scene5) and is completely clueless that his daughter is about to elope with a Christian. It isn’t until Act2, Scene8 when Shylock understands how his daughter has betrayed him.
Solanio a friend of Antonio and Bassanio says, “As the dog Jew did utter in the streets: ‘My daughter! O my ducats! O my daughter! Fled with a Christian! O my Christian ducats! ” (Act2, Scene8) In this act Shylock grieves at the loss of his money, then his daughter, who ran off with a Christian (Lorenzo). Here Shylock is distinctly a victim who is shown no compassion as Solanio laughs at him and calls him a dog. It is clear none of the characters feel any sympathy towards Shylock, simply because he is a Jew. The way Solanio calls Shylock ‘the dog Jew’ shows the hate the Christians had for Jews in Shakespearian times.
A second reason to argue that Shylock is a villain is in Act3, Scene1. This is when Shylock feels lost and accuses Solanio and Salerio for knowing about Jessica’s elopement. He then continues to speak intensely of Jews and Christians common humanity. “My own flesh and blood to rebel. ”(Act3, Scene1) Shylock says this to show how hurt he is to find his daughter has run away. In this act and scene Shylock realises what has happened. He feels hurt and betrayed by Jessica. Again in this act Solanio and Salerio are deliberately being heinous towards Shylock.
Shakespeare is showing how wounded Shylock is at this, as the daughter he raised would never do such a thing. Unfortunately she did the worst possible thing she could, ran off with a Christian. Another reason to support the view that Shylock is a victim is in the court scene. Shylock arrives as the only Jew present which isolates him more and shows the hostility towards Jews. He comes to do his part of the bond which was agreed by both Shylock and Antonio and approved by the Law of Venice. Soon enough the tables turn on Shylock and he instantly becomes the victim.
He is now in danger of death or destruction. Antonio is allowed to grant Shylock mercy, but this is what he asks of him instead, “Two things provide more, that for this favour, he presently become a Christian; the other, that he do record a gift here in the court of all he dies possessed unto his son Lorenzo and his daughter. ” (Act4, Scene1) Now Shylock is forced to provide for his daughter and Lorenzo, a Christian man and become a Christian himself. This definitely makes Shylock the victim as he has lost everything he owns and everything he stands for.
Plundering him of his religious rights would be hard as he did not willingly convert to become Christian. Here Shylock thinks that they should take his life as well, as they have already taken everything he is, when they are doing this he feels like a part of his soul is being ripped from him as he says himself “Nay, take my life and all, pardon not that. ” Shakespeare does an excellent job on showing the spitefulness towards Jews and how representing it in Shylocks awful court sentence shows us the rivalry between Christians and Jews.
One last reason to argue that Shylock is a victim is when he learns of how Jessica is spending the money she stole from him. Tubal, Shylocks servant heard of Jessica’s extreme spending splurge and informed Shylock of it. Among the spending was a ring that Jessica sold for a monkey. “It was a turquoise, I had it of Leah when I was a bachelor. I would not have given it for a wilderness of monkeys” (Act3, Scene1) In this scene Shylock is hurt and shocked that his daughter would sell her mother’s ring.
This pains him as he’d had it since he was a bachelor. He speaks of how he would never sell it as it means so much to him. Shakespeare shows that Shylock has a sensitive side and that he is a sentimental person who should be treated with respect. With the evidence given it shows that Shylock is the victim of this play. In this play he is given a hard time by the whole Christian community. The evidence here shows Shylock is more likely to a victim other than the points which show him as a villain.
The fact that he is bullied, commanded to stand out from the crowd so they can recognise him as a Jew, makes people understand why he would have wanted his bond so badly. He wanted to take control for once and not be the victim. Unfortunately he still manages to become the victim at the end of the play. He loses his only daughter to a Christian which crushes him inside. He is then told that ring of his late wife was sold for monkeys by his daughter this was his only memory of his wife and a gift to his daughter from her mother which killed his insides when he heard the news of the rings loss.
He is stripped of his belongings but the worst is that he is forced to convert to Christianity against his own will. Shylock is victimised so much more that what he does to be a villain. I think Shakespeare tried to display him as a villain, but wanted him to suffer for every misdeed he carried out. Shylock has gained my sympathy as he ends up daughter less, penniless, and very unhappy, just because he wanted to keep his bond. By Zenny Saheel 4th year at Lenzie Academy