The following academic paper highlights the up-to-date issues and questions of How Does Shakespeare Present Shylock. This sample provides just some ideas on how this topic can be analyzed and discussed.
Shylock is introduced as a wealthy, Jewish man who lends money and charges interest. He seems to know Antonio, a local merchant in Venice, as when Antonio goes to him for money he says how Antonio has previously spat on him. We do not know whether Shakespeare meant this to be literate or metaphorical but we do know that many Christians hated Shylock as in Elizabethan times usurers were looked down at as usury was against Christian practise and Shylock was a Jew.
Shylock takes a key part in the bond plot, a plot that involved the lending of some Ducats to Antonio so long as if he need to forfeit he must give willingly a 1lb of his flesh.
Antonio agrees as the way Shylock said it to him made it sound like it was a joke, and he was certain that his ships would be arriving soon with more than enough to pay off the debt.
Further on in the play, we are introduced to Jessica, Shylock’s daughter. Jessica is not very fond of her father and we see this in action when she runs away with a young Christian and is converted. She also steals a number of precious jewels and Ducats from her father. This sends Shylock into a rage and he is pleasantly surprised to find out that Antonio’s ships have failed him and so Antonio must forfeit the bond.
Shylock seems more irate that his ducats are lost then his daughter. This is his chance for revenge against Antonio and taking out his anger about his daughter. He even says: ‘I would my daughter were dead at my foot, and the jewels in her ear’ this shows him in his evil state and that he would rather see his daughter dead if it meant getting his jewels back. He goes to the courtroom fully prepared to exit with a pound of his enemies flesh. However, the fact that shylock keeps making a point of showing importance against sticking to the exact words of the bond go against him.
When the Judge (Portia in disguise) reminds him that he didn’t ask for blood and so if any blood spills when he takes the flesh then he will have all his possessions taken from him, as he will have broken the bond and law. When Shylock decides he would rather take the money that Bassanio has agreed to pay, Portia refuses him it, as he must take the bond and also reminds him that if he takes too little flesh or too much then he will be breaking the law. Shylock is trapped, there is no humane way that he can take the forfeit and so he pleads with the judge to forgive him and spare him of his life.
The judge rules that Shylock must give half his goods the state of Venice and the other half to Antonio. Antonio says that on Shylocks death, half the money will go to his daughter and her Christian husband, he also demands that Shylock become a Christian. The way people view the character of Shylock has changed through the centuries, in the seventeenth century he was seen as a savage villain who is contrasted with the other characters’ comical and romantic styles. However in the nineteenth century, people focused on the sufferings of Shylock and why he behaves like he does.
The reason for the change in opinion could be explained by the way anti-Semitism is seen. When the play was written, it was common to hear anti-Semitic views by the Christians, they often made jokes at those less fortunate and some could say that Shylocks purpose was for some to laugh at a Jewish person’s expense. For example in act 3 scene 1 Salarino and Solanio talk about Shylock’s misfortunes rather sarcastically. One opinion about the way that Shakespeare presents Shylock in the play is that he is shows him to be a Jewish man who is misunderstood, mistreated and unfairly accused.
Shylock can be played as an attractive, sympathetic figure. The ending of the play helps this view very strongly as everything is taken from including his possessions and even his religion. It seems at the end that Shylock has nothing left to live for, even his daughter has played traitor to him and run off with the Christians. “I hate him for he is a Christian” “He lends out money gratis and brings down the rate of here with us in Venice” Shylock despises Antonio because of his religion and because his money lending affects Shylocks living standards and how much money he earns.
It makes us feel compassion towards Shylock as opposed to Antonio in the first half of the play as by Antonio lending money for nothing it is preventing Shylock from earning more. His speech ‘If you prick us’ (Act 3, Scene 1) makes us view him with more sympathy than before. He is asking for understanding and Shakespeare may have done this so that the audience could understand his anger at the way he is treated by the Christians and explains why he feels revenge is rightfully his.
Yet if any sympathy was gained in this speech it was changed after he uses it to justify his constant refusal for mercy and plain revenge. Towards the end of the trial scene, Shylock is shown in a dark light as well as where we begin to feel sympathetic again. The fact that he has come fully prepared with his own knife and scales shows us the determination that he gets what he came for and it shows that he could be very disturbed to have planned it already.
He constantly rejects the pleas for mercy, which could say that Shakespeare wanted to gain trust of the Elizabethans who had anti-Semitism views, if they thought Shakespeare was trying to show pity to the Jew and make him look friendly then no one would see his show as people would think he was trying to make the Elizabethans like Jewish people. So to appeal to everyone you could say he was trying to take no sides showing each character with good and bad qualities, Shakespeare was not anti-Semitic. You could say that Shylock was presented as a villain but for comical purposes.
I have already mentioned how the Elizabethans saw Jews to be evil and that when they see him suffering this may have shown some crude and grotesque humour. The way Shylock is mocked in the finial scene is seen to be fairly humorous for Elizabethan standards. In the film version we watched early on in the year Al Pacino played Shylock. The way he played the part, in my opinion, made the audience sympathise with him more as his facial expressions showed that he felt just for all the wrong things he did. In the film, it showed the courtroom scene to be played in a sympathetic way.
Al Pacino shows great empathy with his character when Shylock has to decide whether to take the flesh even though he will be punished. Shylocks eventual outcome is rather malicious and the way they treat him considering they should be happy that their friend is not going to be killed is rather heartless. They probably think that their actions are justified as Shylock did intend to kill Antonio, yet if they knew how much it hurts to suffer they would have let him go with no further punishment. Also if they cared about their religion so much they would understand how it would feel if they were made to change their religion.