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The Merchant of Venice: Is Shylock a villain or a victim who deserves our sympathy Essay

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The Holocaust was a period of time from the late 1930’s to the middle 1940’s where Germany, who had just lost the war, decided to try to make Germany pure, and in doing so, exterminated 6 million Jews. Their idea of a perfect person was one who had blonde hair and blue eyes. However, the hatred and anti-semitism towards the Jews didn’t start here. It started a long time back, around the time of the 11th century. Near the end of the 11th century, the Christian church taught its followers that usury was morally wrong, and that Christians were forbidden from doing so.

Jews, not included in that rule, but barred from most other professions, turned towards usury as a way of earning money. The Christian church, a lot different to what it is today, taught that Jews should be despised for their rejection of Jesus, to do with the crucifixion of Jesus Christ on the cross. The persecution of the Jews was at an early stage when Christians, after being influenced by the Church, spread lies about Jews, saying that they killed Christian children during Passover, and used the blood to make unleavened bread, which in its own way was morally wrong, and something Jesus did not teach to his followers.

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The term “blood libel” led to such travesties as the mass-suicide of Jews in York in 1190, and many anti-Jewish riots during the 12th century Crusades. After several kings had imposed heavy taxes on Jews, probably because they were Jewish firstly, and secondly to increase Royal Revenue, Edward I was the king who would get rid of most of the Jews who lived in England, in 1190, and those who remained were forced to wear a badge of identification from 1220 (similar to the time spent in the ghettoes during the Holocaust).

The opportunity to be anti-semetic (towards Jews) was rarely let by, as during the 14th century, as Europe was gripped with fear due to the Black Death, Jews were blamed for these deaths because they poisoned wells because – as the argument goes – the superior hygiene of the Jews, along with their better diet, meant they were less like to catch the disease, and therefore did this out of hate, a ludicrous theory. Even during the period of the 14th to 17th centuries, when Jews were largely absent, anti-Jews stereotypes were created by the church.

You can see a major difference from the Church now, to the church only 400 years ago> Two or three years before the first showing of ‘The Merchant of Venice’, a controversial event happened, possibly bigger than any other of the events I have noted in this introduction, bar perhaps the Holocaust or the mass-suicide in York in 1190. A Portuguese Jew, Dr Rodrigo (or Ruy) Lopez, who had converted to Christianity already, was accused of trying to poison Queen Elizabeth.

The trial was notable for the amount of anti-semitism in it, even the judge, supposed to be impartial, called him “that vile Jew”, and, despite Queen Elizabeth herself trying to stop the execution, Lopez was hung in June 1594. Venice, however, was a much safer place to be in if you were a Jew. Their strict, impartial laws gave foreign traders and people the confidence that they would be treated as equally as possibly. Unlike many other Christian countries, Venice did not accept the belief that Jews should be persecuted or hounded, and gave them certain legal right, at a monetary cost however.

The life of a Jew in Venice was a nice one. They had been allocated a district, the Ghetto Nuevo (new iron foundry) where they could run what happened in that certain section of Venice. However, there were drawbacks to this. They had to be locked up in the ghetto at night and on Christian holidays, and were obliged to brick up any windows facing outside of the ghetto. Jews were also made to wear a yellow spot, or when covered, a yellow hat or turban, to identify themselves. This reminds us of the Star of David worn on the arms of the Jews during the Holocaust.

However, during Shakespeare’s time, most of these restrictions were lifted, and Venice had the Jews to thank for making them a more reputable place, for reasons such as learning, money-lending for the poor, and for bringing a great deal of trade to the city Shylock: Villain or Victim? In Act 1, Scene 3, we get our first introductions of Shylock, a money-lending Jew, currently living in Venice. He seems to be a good person when discussing the loan with Bassanio, showing a peaceful kind of man in him, and complimenting Antonio, although his compliment was a sarcastic one, Bassanio might not have got this.

Shylock explains that his interpretation of a good man in Antonio was that he had enough money to repay the loan, although is aware of the doubts concerning his finances. He comments on how he has squandered his money somewhat, but, despite all this, he is still rich enough to pay back the bond. He feels reassured about getting his money back, but when Bassanio asks to dine with him, he refuses, because he knows there will be pork there, and Jews are forbidden to eat pork.

When Antonio comes in however, his attitude changes a bit, and, talking to the audience, he sounds his displeasure towards Antonio, not only for being a Christian, but for lending money without interest, and therefore making his business suffer. He thinks about the bond, and notes that he can’t raise the funds all by himself, but is willing to bring someone else in, Tubal, to complete it, to make it seem he is going the extra mile of sorts to get the money Bassanio needs. He questions Bassanio with “Me thoughts you said you neither lend nore borrow / upon advantage”, showing a witty and clever side.

He explains his motive for usury with a religious example, with the lines “When Jacob grazed his uncle Laban’s sheep– This Jacob from our holy Abraham was, As his wise mother wrought in his behalf, The third possessor; ay, he was the third–“. Antonio questions “Was this inserted to make interest good? Or is your gold and silver ewes and rams? ” Shylock says that he cannot tell, because he makes the money bred as fast, meaning that his money increases all the time due to the interest. From all that I have written so far, he seems to be a clever person.

Shylock doesn’t react angrily to Antonio’s comment of him as a “devil”, one of many times he does this, he simply reminds him of how harshly Antonio has treated him in the past, stating to Antonio that “You call me misbeliever, cut-throat dog, And spit upon my Jewish gaberdine”. Hew now brings into play the fact that the shoes is on the other foot. We now see Shylock twisting Antonio round his finger of sorts, saying all the bad things he has done to him, such as “You, that did void your rheum upon my beard

And foot me as you spurn a stranger cur” and “Fair sir, you spit on me on Wednesday last; You spurn’d me such a day; another time You call’d me a dog”, then, although he knows he will, contemplates whether he will actually give him the money, saying “What should I say to you? Should I not say ‘Hath a dog money? Is it possible A cur can lend three thousand ducats? “, then again reminds him of the horrible things he has done to him, with “Fair sir, you spit on me on Wednesday last; You spurn’d me such a day; another time

You call’d me a dog; and for these courtesies, I’ll lend you thus much moneys’? ” Antonio makes another threat to Shylock, saying that “I am as like to call thee so again, To spit on thee again, to spurn thee too” then, about the loan, says “If thou wilt lend this money, lend it not As to thy friends; for when did friendship take”. Shylock portrays the friend again, with, “I would be friends with you and have your love, Forget the shames that you have stain’d me with, Supply your present wants and take do doit Of usance for my moneys, and you’ll not hear me:

This is kind I offer. ” Bassanio asks if this were kindness, to which Shylock responds; with a penalty issued in it “This kindness will I show. Go with me to a notary, seal me there Your single bond; and, in a merry sport, If you repay me not on such a day, In such a place, such sum or sums as are Express’d in the condition, let the forfeit Be nominated for an equal pound Of your fair flesh, to be cut off and taken In what part of your body pleaseth me. ” Antonio and Bassanio sign to this, eventually, and the scene ends.

After Act 1, Scene 3, Shylock, villain or victim? Victim Shylock, in his next scene, is in his home, with Launcelot, to do with Launcelot leaving his service and joining the service of Bassanio. Shylock warns Launcelot that there will be difference between the two, although one thing won’t change, that Launcelot will still sleep and snore and ruin his clothes, just that he will be in worse company. When Launcelot calls for Jessica, Shylock tells him off somewhat for this. Even though he is not really in his service any more.

When Jessica comes in, Shylock tells her that he is going to dinner, but it is not a dinner with a friend , more as with a business partner (Antonio, business partner because of the loan he needed to repay), and to keep the house safe by locking it up, showing a sense of safety, but mistrust of Christians, maybe a fair mistrust due to the hatred Christians have shown to Jews in the past. He doesn’t really want to go, but he will do, even though he thinks he will have bad luck (ironic because Jessica, an intricate part of his fortunes, escapes from his household, so in some ways he was true).

He tells her not to look at the windows, and not “To gaze on Christian fools with varnished faces,”, also not to let any sounds get in and perhaps tempt her to leave, and tells Launcelot to come with him. From here he seems to show protection, maybe a little too much, for his daughter. He catches Launcelot talking, and asks “What says that foot of Hagar’s offspring, ha? “, probably thinking something might be up, which Jessica denies. Shylock berates Launcelot again, saying “The patch is kind enough, but a huge feeder;

Snail-slow in profit, and he sleeps by day More than the wild-cat: drones hive not with me; Therefore I part with him, and part with him To one that would have him help to waste His borrow’d purse. ” After Act 2, Scene 5, Shylock is a: Victim In this scene, Shylock doesn’t have anything to say, but is a main focus of the conversation. , Upon finding out his daughter is missing, and crying (according to The Merchant of Venice film), he gets the Duke to search for her, showing that he wants to find her, and will take great measures to do so.

He was too late, which caused him to make a big scene down the streets of Venice. He said the following, after Solanio and Salerio again call him a “dog Jew”, which is so prominent in the film; “My daughter! O my ducats! O my daughter! Fled with a Christian! O my Christian ducats! Justice! The law! My ducats, and my daughter! A sealed bag, two sealed bags of ducats, Of double ducats, stolen from me by my daughter! And jewels, two stones, two rich and precious stones, Stolen by my daughter! Justice! Find the girl; She hath the stones upon her, and the ducats. This could be seen as the beginning of Shylocks transformation into a villain, as he is showing more care about money than his daughter, which is morally wrong.

After Act 2, Scene 8, Shylock is a: Victim, but nearer to villain than before In Act 3, Scene 1, set in a street in Venice, Solanio and Salerio are confronted by a rather angry Shylock, who accuses them of knowing about the plan to take Jessica away. Salerio and Solanio admit to this, but say that “And Shylock, for his own part, knew the bird was fledged; and then it is the complexion of them all to leave the dam. This means that Shylock knew that Jessica was ready and fully fledged, and ready to leave the house and make her own decisions. Shylock damns his daughter, not a very nice thing to do, and also notes that his deal with Antonio was a bad one, due to the fact Antonio is in financial trouble, but says that he must pay the bond, or else the consequences will be felt (pound of flesh off Antonio). He makes his big, sympathetic speech in this scene. He lists all the things he has suffered, although gaining an Elizabethan audiences disrespect with the use of the word “Revenge”.

This is his speech, probably the most important one he makes; “I am 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? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge? ” A modern day audience would feel sympathy, but back then, this would be more comedic, and respect and sympathy would be lost.

Upon hearing that they have not found his daughter, Shylock has a whine, complaining about how he is the only one to have suffered, although this is completely untrue, and a very selfish thing to say. He also says, distastefully; “I would my daughter were dead at my foot, and the jewels in her ear! Would she were hearsed at my foot, and the ducats in her coffin! “, meaning that he wishes his daughter were dead, and the ducats be in her coffin. In my opinion, this completes the transformation to a villain for Shylock. Tubal notes that other have bad luck, including Antonio, which immediately puts a smile on Shylock’s face.

When he hears that he is in financial trouble, he is happy, but then gets a bit angry at hearing that Jessica traded the ring to a man, for a monkey, explaining that his (deceased) wife, Leah, gave it to him, and that he would not have given it away for anything. He is more complimentary at the end to Tubal, because he brought the news of Antonio’s sudden downfall in riches After Act 3, Scene 1, Shylock is a: Villain This scene is set in a jail (note that the Narrator called Shylock “the Jew”). Shylock seems to be only interested in revenge, and not in the bond, due to everything he claims Antonio has done to him.

Antonio makes a soft, sympathetic plea for himself, making Shylock look more merciless than he already is. He forces onto them the agreement he has from the bond, and using the insults he has been suffering against Antonio, says “But since I am a dog, beware my fangs”. Shylock has no wish to listen to Antonio’s reasoning’s as he is fuelled only by revenge. After Act 3, Scene 3, Shylock is a: Villain This scene, one of the most important in the play, is in the Court of Justice, where Shylock wishes to exact his revenge.

He says that “by our holy Sabbath have I sworn To Have the due and foreit of my bond”. He tells the court that they must wonder why he wouldn’t want money over “A weight of carrion flesh”, but that he won’t answer those thoughts. He notes that some men have strange reactions for strange things, his case being exacting revenge on Antonio, using examples such as “Some men there are love not a gaping pig”, “Some, that are mad if they behold a cat;” “And others, when the bagpipe sings I’ the nose, Cannot contain their urine: for affection,”.

He tells the Duke that he can’t give reasons for his desire for revenge, apart from his obvious hatred of Antonio. When Bassanio says that “This is no answer, thou unfeeling man, To excuse the current of thy cruelty. “, Shylock responds with “I am not bound to please thee with my answers. ” Shylock says, after being offered six thousand ducats, that “If every ducat in six thousands ducats Were in six parts, and every part a ducat (36,000 ducats), I would not draw them; I would have my bond! “, showing that no amount of ducats could sway him.

When the Duke questions “How shalt thou hope for mercy, rendering none? “, Shylock comes back with “What judgement shall I dread, doing no wrong? You have among you many a purchased slave, Which, like your asses and your dogs and mules, You use in abject and in slavish parts, Because you bought them: shall I say to you, Let them be free, marry them to your heirs? ” Basically, Shylock says that he should not have to hope for any mercy, when the Duke himself has many slaves himself, and therefore Shylock asks whether they should have mercy as well.

He asks whether they deserve to get the worst accommodation, why they should be treated badly, why they should have the worst jobs, even though they are human beings like himself and the Duke He says that their reasons are because “The slaves are ours”, therefore the pound of flesh deserves to be his, and whether he may have the flesh no. When Shylock is asked why he gets his knife out so quickly, he explains it is to get the pound of flesh from Antonio “(That bankrupt there! )”.

When Gratiano gets into a rant and rave about this, Shylock comes back with “Till thou canst rail the seal from off my bond, Thou but offend’st thy lungs to speak so loud: Repair thy wit, good youth, or it will fall To cureless ruil. I stand here for law. ” Basically, until Gratiano’s words can remove the seal from his bond, then he is only wasting his breath. When the “clerks” (Portia and Nerissa) come in, and ask Shylock what his name is, he peacefully does so, saying “Shylock is my name”.

When told that he should be merciful, Shylock asks “On what compulsion must I? Tell me that. “, asking why should he show mercy, and to give a reason. When given an explanation from Portia, he says that he will accept the consequences of his actions, and that “I crave the law, The penalty and forfeit of my bond”. When Portia says something backing up Shylock’s views on law, he instantly commends her and compliments her, with lines such as “A Daniel come to judgement! Yea, a Daniel! O wise young judge, how I do honour thee! and “Here ’tis, most reverend doctor, here it is”, but that he has to keep his oath, as it is “in heaven”, and that he will not go against the heavens, not for Venice. Portia notes that the bond is forfeit, but asks for Shylock to take three times the bond (9,000 ducats), he refuses, once again stamping on his feeling of not letting go of his bond.

After another two compliments, he is told he can go ahead with the cutting of the flesh. When asked whether a surgeon is at hand to look after Antonio’s wounds, Shylock’s distasteful response is “Is it so nominated in the bond? , and will not do it out of any kindness, as he seems to have none. He makes more note to his hate of Christians, saying that Christians would not be worthy of his daughter, and that he would rather have any relative of Barrabas as a husband. After more compliments, that wouldn’t have been viewed greatly by Elizabethan audiences, he finds out that he can’t shed a drop of blood, and, instantly, his attitude changes, and he wants the money, but Portia says that this must go ahead.

Shylock, nervous now, asks for the money and for him to let go, and is refused, he says that he wishes to be no part of this debate any longer. He knows that in failing, he will lose everything, and says “Nay, take my life and all; pardon not that: You take my house when you do take the prop That doth sustain my house; you take my life When you do take the means whereby I live. “, showing that his fortunes are more important than his life, that his life revolves around what he owns. When Portia finally shows mercy, he takes the bond, and leaves.

Throughout the play, we see a complete change in the character of Shylock. From the start, he appears to be the victim, who is being mistreated and is living a hard life, however, as the play progresses, Shylock brings upon himself the transformation from victim to villain, and eventually is a fully fledged villain who seems to not want to take any prisoners, however, in the end he loses. Shylock starts off as a victim, but as the play progresses he slowly turns into a villain, and ends up as a villain

About the author

This sample is done by Scarlett with a major in Economics at Northwestern University. All the content of this paper reflects her knowledge and her perspective on The Merchant of Venice: Is Shylock a villain or a victim who deserves our sympathy and should not be considered as the only possible point of view or way of presenting the arguments.

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