Shylock: Tormented or Victim?
What makes a villain? How would villainy be defined? Villains may have a desire to kill, to steal, or to cause suffering. To define a villain is not done by just evaluating their actions but by looking at the circumstances and their intentions. In “The Merchant of Venice” by William Shakespeare, Shylock would appear to be the obvious villain showing cruel and cold-hearted traits. However, Antonio creates an emotionally complex personality in the character of Shylock. A villain is someone in whom pain is inflicted upon them by another, someone who is victimized unreasonably with no purpose for it, and someone who is not capable of changing the actions towards them. Shylock possesses all these traits, this shows that he is the victim in “The Merchant of Venice”. The bitterness he displays to the world is a direct effect from years of suffering he has endured.
Prejudice is the main cause of misery in Shylock’s life. Over the years he has been mocked for being a Jew. “For sufferance is the badge of all our tribe” (Shylock, act 1 scene 3).
This quote directly relates to the fact that he is treated with inequality everywhere he goes. Shylock is taunted by such harsh names such as “This currish Jew”, “Mark, Jew”, and “Tarry Jew”. He is also taunted with “cut-throat dog” and “inexecrable dog”. The fact that he is described as an animal shows others regard him as less than human. He has been isolated in a Christian community and even in the courtroom he is treated like an outsider; “Go one, and call the Jew into court” (Duke, act 4 scene 1).
Shakespeare uses contradictory emotions and beliefs though out the play. He raises many questions about racism and morality. Theses attitudes are relevant to the period the play was written. The play confronts the subject of Christians and Jews. There was great conflict between Christians and Jews, and Shakespeare portrayed this incredibly well thought out his play. Anti- Semitism had been present ...
This injustice that is constantly displayed has clearly generated fierce feelings of anger, and a deep-seated desire for revenge. Therefore I would say this is the cause for his desperate craving for Antonio’s bond. It may seem as Shylock is victimizing Antonio, which would make him the villain. But really it is Shylock being victimized by the Christian community surrounding him, especially Antonio.
Antonio is no stranger to Shylock. They are business rivals with a firm dislike for each other. Antonio has shown Shylock even less courtesy than everyone else. “You call me ‘misbeliever’, ‘cut-throat dog’, and spit upon my Jewish gabardine” (Shylock, act 1 scene 3), says Shylock, “He hath disgraced me and hindered me half a million, laughed at my losses, mocked at my gains, scorned my nation, thwarted my bargains, cooled my friends, heated my enemies – and what’s his reason? I am a Jew” (Shylock, act 3 scene 1).
This listing technique emphasises Shylock’s fury and distress. Antonio has clearly gone out of his way to cause Shylock trouble in the past, therefore providing Shylock with many reasons to despise him and seek revenge. Shylock’s insistence towards their bond is understandable.
The recent events Shylock has been through are certain to have intensified his mounting hatred. His only servant Lancelot leaves him, and works for a new master, the Christian Bassanio. Furthermore, his only daughter, “Jessica” leaves him to be wed to Antonio’s friend, Lorenzo. This would largely greaten Shylocks hatred for Antonio, as Jessica stole Shylock’s money and jewels; she was also changing her religion. Shylock regards religion as being very important, and he strongly despises Christians. When Shylock discovers the fate of his ring he is furious. “It was my turquoise, I had it of Leah when I was a bachelor. I would not have given it for a wilderness of monkeys” (Shylock, act 3 scene 1).
Giving away something that meant a lot to him was a very cruel and hurtful act.
One could argue that Shylock’s insistence towards the bond displays maliciousness. However taking Antonio’s life shows no mercy in Shylock at all. This being said, it can easily be understood why he pursues it so fiercely. Antonio is someone who has caused much sorrow and pain in his life. Shylock has craved for a chance to avenge himself for many years; therefore his hatred blinds him from mercy and forgiveness. “I’ll not be made a soft and dull eyed fool” (Shylock, act 3 scene 3), he states, showing his unflinching determination, and reckless state of mind.
How Far Is Shylock's Jewishness Shown By Shakespeare To Be Responsible For His Actions And Attitudes One of the reasons Shakespeare's plays have always been popular is because of their appeal to different audiences. In the Merchant of Venice Shakespeare produces a quite intricate play bringing up the question of racism and morality for some of the more educated members of Elizabethan audience, ...
In conclusion, Shylock endures a lot of hard times and painful events. Discrimination is always openly shown towards him, and isolation is a gruelling thing to deal with. Anyone subjected to the same treatment as he is is certain to become bitter and angry. He was forced into becoming what he is through the injuries inflicted upon his own emotions. Shylock appears to be the villain in The Merchant of Venice because he seems to not show any signs of mercy towards anyone, and only wants revenge, when in Reality he is the victim. He is a victim of being emotionally isolated and prejudiced; he cannot handle the anger he is holding in because of the hatred shown towards him from Antonio.