How Is Shylock Presented In The Merchant Of Venice

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The Merchant of Venice is a play written by William Shakespeare in the late 16th century. There are many subplots as well as the main storyline, which adds depth to the story and helps to show different sides to the characters. The subplots also make the play appeal to a wider audience.

Shylock, a wealthy Jew is one of the main characters. During the play his merciless and uncompassionate nature is revealed. The main storyline is about Bassanio’s journey to get to his lover Portia, he has to borrow money to travel from the moneylender Shylock and this makes his friend Antonio in trouble.

There are many themes that run through the play, such as love, trust, hate, loyalty, family and anti-Semitism. Throughout the play Shakespeare uses language for figurative, poetic and dramatic effect, using soliloquies and other language devices.

As the title suggest I will be looking at the moral and philosophical content and how Shylock could be viewed as a victim, villain and a comic character by an Elizabethan audience and how this is today. Shakespeare based Shylock on a Jew called Barubas in Christopher Marlowe’s play “The Jew of Malta”. He was a 2D stock villain who had no redeeming features.

Why Does Jessica Hate Shylock

He went round poisoning Christians drinking water, this is what Elizabethans would be expecting Shylock to be like.

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This confirms what Elizabethans thought about Jews, that they are villains. However Shylock is a more rounded character he is a victim as well as a villain. As Shylock is a complex character the audience doesn’t know how to feel, sympathy or hate. Shakespeare raises the moral question of how to treat Jews in society. In act 1 we see Shylock meeting with Bassanio to discuss a loan. Act 1 Scene 3 line 103-104 “You call me misbeliever, cut-throat dog, And spit upon my Jewish gaberdine. The audience is shown of Antonio’s hatred and insults towards Shylock. To an Elizabethan audience it would be humorous to insult Jews. Christians blamed Jews for the death of Jesus. Pontious Pilot (a King) gave the crowd of Jews the choice to crucify Jesus of a thief. The Jewish crowd saved the thief and killed Jesus so Christian’s feel they are in league with the devil. Christian’s feel they must punish the Jews for it and Christian’s feel that they must try and convert them to Christianity to save them. However this also portrays Shylock as a victim as it shows the prejudices against him.

A modern audience would find this racist, anti-Semitism unacceptable. Shakespeare uses a simile here for figurative effect and to add layers of meaning and show Jews as an inferior species. Antonio also has other reasons to hate Shylock. As Antonio reveals in Act1 Scene 3 Line 86. “Was this inserted to make interest good? ” Antonio is suspicious of Shylock and his religion. Elizabethans at the time thought of Jews as suspicious. Shylock lends money (usury) and charge interest, which Antonio hates. Elizabethans thought it was sinful to charge interest on loans.

The bible says “It’s easier to pass a camel through a needle, than a rich man to go to heaven. ” This meant Christians were prejudice to moneylenders who charge interest like Shylock. Antonio has friends whose lives have been ruined by Shylock’s interest. This also adds to the stereotypical image of Jews, as misers who are renowned for money lending. However this prejudice is not one sided. Act 1 Scene 3 Line 34. “I hate him for he is Christian. ” Shylock’s deep grudge is shown in his soliloquy. An Elizabethan Christian audience would think he was a villain wanting revenge.

However a modern audience would feel more sympathetic towards Shylock as he has suffered years of torment. A modern audience would more likely side with Shylock unlike an Elizabethan audience. As Shylock finishes talking about Antonio he turns up, this is for dramatic effect. Shylock continues to show how much he hates the Christian religion. Act 2 Scene 5 Lines 14-15. “But yet I’ll go in hate, to feed upon The prodigal Christian. ” This shows how Shylock’s hatred against Christians has been brewing up through out the play. Shylock is waiting for his chance to get revenge against Antonio and the Christian faith.

When Bassanio wants a loan Shylock is given the perfect opportunity for revenge. Act1 scene 3 Line “Be nominated for an equal pound, Of your fair flesh, to be cut off” Shylock challenges Antonio to have such a forfeit so he could get revenge. Antonio is confident that his ships will come back on time. This further heightens the feeling that Shylock is a villain. Shylock in his soliloquy expresses his feelings about Antonio. Act1 Scene3 Line 38-39. “If I can catch him once upon the hip, I will feed fat the ancient grudge I bear him. ” Shylock wants revenge for the prejudice that has been against him because of his religion and Job.

He has been unfairly treated and wants revenge on Antonio and the Christian religion. Shylock wanting to hurt Antonio and Christians portrays him as a bloodthirsty villain. Shylock’s conversation with Tubal reveals his intentions to get his revenge on Antonio. Act 3 scene 1 Line 91-92. “I am very glad of it. I’ll plague him, I’ll torture him. ” Shylock is being Devious as he is planning to take the pound of flesh from Antonio slowly causing as much pain and suffering as possible. It shows how Shylock’s revenge and anger has been building up. Shylock’s lust for Christian blood further adds to the mood that he is a villain.

When Antonio seals to the bond Shylock says. Act1 Scene 3 Line 153-154 “O father Abram, what these Christians are, Whose own hard dealings teaches them suspect” Shylock is celebrating his chance to get revenge. He believes that this is from the Jewish god to get back at Antonio and the Christian religion. An Elizabethan audience would find this comical. Shylock obeys law and order and lives by the law. Act 1 Scene 3 Lines 137-138 “Go with me to a notary seal me there Your single bond,” Shylock wants to make everything official and legally binding.

Shylock does this to try and make sure Antonio can’t get out of the deal and the forfeit. However later on in the play Antonio gets out of the forfeit so it could be seen as irony to an Elizabethan audience. Shakespeare continues to show Shylock as obsessed with the law. Act 4 Scene 1 line 202-203. “I crave the law, The penalty and forfeit of my bond. ” Shylock is obsessed with the law and lives by it. Shylock believes the law is sacred and that everyone should respect the laws. As he is obsessed with the law it distances the audience from Shylock. However later on the laws hard do him, this creates the feeling that he is a victim.

Shylock’s daughter Jessica hates him, this adds to the audience idea that he is a villain. Act 3 scene 1 Line 69-70 “I would my daughter were dead at my foot, and the jewels in her ear. ” Shylock wishes his daughter dead, which is a horrible thing for any father to say which adds to the feeling that Shylock is a villain. Shylock treats Jessica badly so she eloped and takes dowry money. Shylock would not allow Jessica to stay out late but after she eloped she stays out late spending money. Shylock is furious to hear of her spending and this adds to the fact that Shylock is a miser.

Shylock wants his jewellery back he gave to her, this adds to the stereotypical image that he is a tight fisted miser. Stopping Jessica going out and having fun shows him as a killjoy. In Elizabethan times there were people trying to close down theatres, this is a link to Elizabethan society. The people watching the play would hate those who were trying to close down the theatres, so they would hate killjoys like Shylock. Shylock has no loving family as they have left him; this further serves to distance the audience from him. Shakespeare continues the theme that Shylock is a miser and tight fisted. Act 2 Scene 5 Line 18. I dream of money bags tonight. ” Shylock is obsessed by money, he dreams about it and his life revolves around money. On the other hand Shylock refuses the offer of money. Act 4 Scene 1 Line 223 Portia “Shylock, there’s thrice thy money offered” Shylock rejects the offer of more money from Portia, as he is blood thirsty for revenge. Shylock justifies his actions by taking the forfeit of his bond. Shylock isn’t interested in money he just wants revenge. The Merchant of Venice is like other Shakespeare plays in structure, in that it has five acts and has varied plots which is one of the reasons its such a popular play.

The play is set in two cities, Venice and Belmont. Belmont is a fictitious city created by Shakespeare to create a contrast to the hard life in Venice. It’s a feminine world where Portia and females are in charge and everyone is peaceful and helpful. Where as Venice is a more masculine city where there are Dukes and Lords who control the laws and there is also lots of violence and hate, this creates a contrast to Belmont. When Portia goes to Venice she has to dress up to be clever and beat Shylock at his own game. This adds to the feeling that Shylock is a villain and highlights the violence of Venice.

Shakespeare uses prose and poetic language through the play. Prose is used for the characters of lesser importance whereas important characters, such as lords speak in poetic language. Shylock speaks in a mixture of prose and poetic language this is for poetic effect. When Shylock is a victim he speaks in poetic language. However when he is a villain he speaks in prose. This helps to create a different side to the character and creates dramatic effect in the scene. Shakespeare writes in “Iambic pentamiter” his play looks like a poem in structure, which is why it is difficult to understand.

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How Is Shylock Presented In The Merchant Of Venice. (2019, Dec 07). Retrieved from

How Is Shylock Presented In The Merchant Of Venice
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