Shylock is definitely the most complicated character in the play “The Merchant of Venice.” He is a Jewish moneylender. Which is a double disadvantage for him, as there were not many Jewish people in England during the Elizabethan Period. Jewish people were hated, and so was the money lending profession, but often, it was the only profession they could take up, as often, Jews were not allowed to own land or trade.
We first encounter Shylock in Act 1, Scene 3, he appears to be a very cautious businessman and seems to be trying to make Bassanio nervous as well. Shylock also makes it very obvious that he hates Antonio, because he is Christian, but also because he lends money, interest free, shown in the following quote:
“I hate him for he is a Christian;
But more for that in low simplicity
He lends out money gratis”
He repeats the terms quite a few times, musing over them. It is also shown that Shylock is a man who deals not much with people, but more with their money. This is shown when he says:
“Antonio is a good man”
Bassanio takes this as a compliment for Antonio, a good person, honourable, when Shylock means it as good for money, financially sound and secure.
At this point it is good to notice that the audience, by now, do not particularly like Shylock very much. He has shown to be mean and almost disrespectful when he refuses their dinner offer, although his religion says he must not eat pork.
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Suddenly, he bursts out with a speech on how much Antonio has treated him:
“You call me misbeliever, cut-throat dog,
And spit upon my Jewish gaberdine,”
All of a sudden the audience feel sympathetic towards Shylock, this poor man has been spat on, teased and called names, yet he is even considering lending them money. Then another switch, Shylock comes out with an extremely strange bond. He says, that if Bassanio can not pay the bond, Antonio shall pay it, if Antonio can not pay it, he will take:
“an equal pound
Of your fair flesh, to be cut of and taken
In what part of your body pleaseth me”
Now we again we dislike him. What kind of sick person asks for a pound of someone’s flesh? At the end of the scene the audience are pondering over whether to like or dislike Shylock, and also frantically hoping that Antonio’s ships are safe!
The next time Shylock is referred to, is in Act 2, Scene 2, Lancelot Gobbo, a joker and servant to Shylock, is trying to escape says that Shylock is:
“the very devil incarnation”
In the next scene, his daughter adds to this, saying how much she dislikes living with him, and that:
“Our house is hell”
We feel very sorry for Lancelot and Jessica, and hate Shylock even more, for we find he is not only a mean person, but also a bad father. At the end of the scene, Jessica says that she is going to run away with, marry, and become, a Christian. Again a rush of sympathy is felt for Shylock, this strong Jewish man is going to lose his daughter, and to a Christian! The very people he hates!
Shylock can also be seen, as a bit of a hypocrite, is Act 1 Scene 3, he says:
“I will not eat with you”
Yet in Act 2 Scene 5, he says that he will go to a meal with Bassanio:
“I am bid forth to supper”
He, of course makes excuses for himself, saying that he is going only to:
“help waste his borrowed purse
It still makes us wonder though, what kind of a person he is, to go back on his own word, and he might also be eating pork there, therefore, breaking the rules of the Jewish religion. Another switch on his character.
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Scene 8 is very confusing, from Solanio’s account we cannot tell whether Shylock misses his daughter or his ducats more! Shylock seems very confused himself, it is also said he had:
“a passion so confused”:
” My daughter! O my ducats! O my daughter!
Fled with a Christian! O my Christian ducats!”
He himself cannot tell which is worse, his stolen money, his eloped daughter, the fact that his daughter eloped with a Christian, or that his daughter stole his money, this is shown very clearly in the above quote. It is also important to take notice that Shylock is not actually in this scene, probably because if he were, his unhappiness and distress would cause too much sympathy to go his way, not the desired effect.
Before Shylock gains our sympathy, again, he says something quite disgusting and repulsive. Salarino asks him why he is taking flesh, what good will it do him, what use is it to him? Shylock’s reply really does astound us:
“to bait fish withal; if it will feed nothing else it will feed
This once more poses him as a villain. To use human flesh as fish bait was, and still is, unthinkably filthy. He also says that if it won’t feed fish, it will feed his revenge. So he is really only doing it for is peace of mind, just to know that he has got one back on Antonio.
In Act 3 Scene 1 it seems ash if all of his emotions have run wild as he bursts out with what is the most important speech in the play, and also some of the most meaningful words. He tells of all the abuse, which he has had to take, and all because he is a Jew:
“Hath not a Jew eyes? hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as a Christian is? if you prick us, do we not bleed? if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison us, do we not die””
All this shows that he knows what humanity is, if we said ‘no’ to the questions we would be denying our own humanity as well as his.
“if you wrong us, shall we not revenge””
This is a totally different view. It is true, of course that a human will usually, naturally, try and take revenge on someone who has hurt them. In Shylock’s case, he has been hurt most deeply. In the last few lines, Shylock tells us that he will:
... difference between Shylock and his Christian enemies was their willingness to spare his life, despite all he tried to do to Antonio. Shylock was ... they situation in the same scene with Jessica, modern readers would find this wrong. Shylock keeps his daughter under lock and key, controls ... of his treatment he brings upon himself. His thirst for revenge and his harshness to other characters in the play ...
“better the instruction”
He will improve himself, it is not good enough for him to be equal to a Christian, he must be better, a superior to them. He then makes things worse for himself, by being so angry that he wishes his daughter were dead at his feet rather than having his precious stones and jewels stolen from him.
Shylock also seems quite interested and very happy of the news that one of Antonio’s ships has probably been wrecked at sea. This is clearly shown with:
“What, what, what? Ill luck, ill luck””
“I thank thee, good Tubal: good news, good news! Ha
ha, heard in Genoa”
He is almost crazy with delight that he will be able to get revenge on Antonio.
Then Tubal says that his daughter, Jessica, has been spending a lot of money, Shylock almost goes crazy with anger. Tubal also says that he saw one of Antonio’s rings, which had been traded for a monkey. Shylock becomes very sad, it had been a present from his (presumably dead) wife. Shylock says he wouldn’t have traded it:
“for a wilderness of monkeys”
Showing how sentimental this ring had been for him.
This scene is a very important, and confusing scene. Shylocks character says many things and our sympathy is continually swaying from him to Antonio, and back to him again by the end of Act 3 Scene 1.
I think that Shylock is a very complicate character, with many faults, but many reasons to be sad. I also think that although Shylock can be mean at times, he has to go through the most pain, not only losing his daughter, but to a Christian. Not only losing his jewels and money, but to have his most precious ring traded for a monkey. He is such a diverse character, that it cannot be decided whether there is “much kindness in the Jew”, or whether he has “a villains mind”!