Shylock As A Victim In The Merchant Of Venice Essay

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In the period where The Merchant of Venice is set, anti-Semitism was ubiquitous. Shakespeare was probably influenced by this and — although he probably never met a ‘Jew’ — made Shylock a magnet for of anti-Semitism. However, the complex character of Shylock occasionally shows signs of humanity, which suggests that Shylock is a victim but – particularly from the perspective of the other main characters, such as Portia or Antonio - also a villain. We see two controversial sides of Shylock; one is the ruthless Jew who is enthralled by the idea of killing a Christian merchant to ‘feed fat the ancient grudge’ and ‘whets [his] knife so earnestly’. However, we also see that Shylock is a devout widower, who is victimised and tries to seek revenge legally …show more content…
The ‘Hath not a Jew’ speech in Act 3.1 shows that Jews are attacked because of their heritage. They are unfairly persecuted even though they eat ‘the same food’ and are ‘hurt with the same weapons’. Shakespeare uses rhetorical questions, such as, ‘if you tickle us, do we not laugh?’ which emphasises Shylock’s desire for acceptance. The repetition of ‘Hath not a Jew’ and ‘if you…’ implies that Shylock feels that his plea should be heard after years of being ignored. The reiterations in the speech add prominence to his message; to the audience he seems almost desperate for the acknowledgment of his humanity. When Shylock says, ‘the villainy you teach me I will execute, Shakespeare shows us that Shylock is redirecting the hatred that the Christians inflict on him. We see that the pain Shylock has been harbouring for years is manifesting into anger when Shylock says, ‘why, revenge’. From Shylock’s monologue, his actions seem justified. Salarino, the character listening to his speech, doesn’t reply, which would suggest a stunned silence. However, as seen on stage in the Michael Redford version, Salarino is not affected or stung by the words. Instead, he converses with the Servingman as if nothing has happened. We infer from his speech that Shylock wants the Christians to listen and he feels the only way for this to happen is to give them a taste of …show more content…
Shylock acknowledges the fact that he will never be seen as a human by the Christians and thus, sinks to their level: ‘But since I am a dog, beware my fangs’. The Christians habitually call him ‘dog’ as an insult and we infer from this that Shylock accepts his maltreatment, but is not defeated it. Although Shylock sees Antonio as the epitome of the Christians’ gluttony and wickedness, Shakespeare makes us question the justice in his need for a ‘pound of flesh’. The reason Shylock gives for his desire for his bond is no more than a ‘lodged hate’ for Antonio, which makes us realise the vileness in Shylock. The other characters, Bassanio and Portia, do try and give Shylock ‘thrice the bond’ but he refuses this, and this is what makes his downfall all the greater. By the end of this scene, the playwright shows us how Shylock is tricked by Portia, and is exposed as an ‘alien’; we see that Shylock appears to be belittled by the Christians, as before in The Merchant of Venice. Shylocks tries to use the law to beat his enemies but ironically, his enemies beat him using the law, as now they ‘render [Shylock’s] mercy’. Ultimately, ‘one half of his goods’ is confiscated and he must ‘become a Christian’ – the ultimate humiliation for Shylock. Shakespeare shows us, throughout the play, how Judaism is a vital part of Shylock; we understand this because Shylock’s speech is full of

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