The Victims Of The Merchant Of Venice English Literature Essay
In the play ‘The Merchant of Venice’ written by William Shakespeare, the character Shylock is a Jewish money lender who lives in a ghetto with his daughter Jessica. He strongly believes in his religion and being a money lender makes him unpopular among the Christian community. He was seen more as a villain to the Elizabethan audience the reason being Jews were thought to be a lower class to the Christians. The Venetian Jews had to live in a ghetto, which would be located outside of the main city with gates that would be locked at the certain time and had to wear an item of clothing to identify that you were a Jew. The modern audiences have more sympathy for the character and Shylock may across as a victim as well as a villain. According to the Collins Pocket Dictionary the definition of villain is a wicked person and a victim is a person or thing harmed or killed.
The character of Shylock could be interpreted as both a victim and a villain. As Shylock is a Jew and this would cause him to be treated badly by the Christians. In the Elizabethan times the Venetian Jews were thought of as inferior to the Christians. He is called ‘The Villain Jew’ and ‘The Dog Jew’ throughout the play. The Merchant of Venice is about Shylock who is a Jewish money lender. His daughter Jessica runs away with a Christian which is a religion that Shylock deeply despises. Shylock seeks ‘a pound of flesh’ from Antonio who is unable to pay back the debt from the bond due to his ships being lost in the sea. Due to the law and Antonio being defended and as a result of following the bond through to the end Shylock is forced to give up his religion and money.
Shylock comes across as cunning to the audience while deciding whether or not to make the bond between him and Antonio. ‘Three thousand ducats well; for three months, well.’ The repetition of the word ‘well’ sounds like he is thinking of a plan and taking advantage of the situation he is in. ‘The man is, notwithstanding, sufficient. Three thousand ducats; I think I may take his bond’. By Shylock accepting the bond he comes across as having a plan ready to get revenge on the people that have disgraced him. The way he is speaking sounds like he is plotting an idea in his head to think of a bond that will make the most out of this opportunity.
Shylock is again analysing the situation and turning it into a scenario that would greatly benefit him. ‘If I can catch him once upon the hip I can feed fat the ancient grudge I bear him.’ To ‘feed fat’ means to get the most out of the situation and ‘ancient grudge’ shows that his hatred is not only personal but has years of history attached. He has been mistreated for many years by the Christians and he is using this bond as a chance to get revenge for all of the hatred he has built up. Shylock is making the most out of the current situation and making sure he can get a chance for revenge. It shows just how far Shylock would go to get revenge and it can come across as if he is living to get revenge on the Christians.
Shylock is not charging interest for the bond but instead he insists that he gets a pound of flesh if Antonio is unable to pay the bond back in three months. ‘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’. This shows Shylock is a horrible man who is driven by revenge rather than money. The ‘pleaseth’ means Shylock is choosing where he is able to cut the flesh from and he is likely to choose part of the flesh which is going to cause the most amount of damage to Antonio. This makes the audience see Shylock as a villain who is driven by revenge and will try to make the punishment as harsh as possible for Antonio. He also states, ‘A pound of man’s flesh, taken from a man, is not so profitable as flesh of muttons, beefs or goats’. Shylock is admitting that gaining a pound of flesh would not be of much value to him and he would not be able to gain a profit out of it. Shylock is being sly and doing his best to convince Antonio that he is not interested in the flesh. Later on in the scene Shylock is referring to the bond as a ‘merry bond’ which means that this is as a game doing his best to make Antonio accept the bond. To an Elizabethan and modern audience Shylock would come across as a villain trying the take the life of a Christian. He is going to get revenge by any means and using it to fill his desires to pay back what the Christians have been doing to him for the past years.
Shylock is also seen as a villain by his own family. His daughter Jessica finds living in the same house as Shylock in which she describes it as, ‘Our house is hell’. This is a metaphor comparing her home to hell which shows just how bad he is as a father for his own daughter Jessica to be saying it. ‘Hell’ can be considered as torture and it shows that she is not getting treated fairly. It is a way of showing extreme unhappiness and a place that she does not find peaceful and enjoyable to be in. Shylock also tells her to keep herself locked up inside the house while he is not at home. ‘Lock up the doors; and when you hear the drum and the vile squealing of the wry-neck’d fife, clamber not you up to the casements then, nor thrusts your head into the public street to gaze on Christian fools with varnish’d faces.’ He is encouraging Jessica to be isolated from the world because of what has happened to him. He is not showing any trust or faith in his daughter because he is encouraging her to lock all the doors and windows stopping her from coming in contact with any Christians. He is showing his hatred for Christians by not wanting her to get close to them and at the same time is also being prejudiced. She is being imprisoned in her own home and at the same time Shylock is controlling what actions she is allowed and not allowed to do. He is being over-protective about the well being of his own daughter.
Jessica says that she is ashamed to be related to her own father. ‘Alack, what heinous sin is it in me, to be asham’d to be my father’s child! But although I am a daughter to his blood, I am not to his manners’. Jessica is embarrassed to be Shylock’s daughter which makes him seem like a villain. He is treating his daughter so poorly to the point that she does not want to be his daughter anymore. To say she is ‘asham’d’ shows just how humiliated she is by her father and does not want to be associated with him as his family. Jessica also says to Lorenzo, ‘O Lorenzo! If thou keep promise, I shall end this strife; Become a Christian, and thy loving wife.’ Jessica saying this shows that she is desperate to escape her current life with her father and live an enjoyable life with someone she loves whilst having the freedom to do as she chooses. Jessica saying this can imply that Shylock is treating his daughter cruelly and doing not choosing what is best for her. She wants to live a life without her father shows how overbearing it must be for her to be controlled on how to live and what to do every day. She is also willing to change religions and become a Christian. She is desperate to leave the house and will do anything she can to escape, even if it means changing what she has been brought up in for her whole life. Jessica is also uncomfortable and humiliated by Shylocks actions which is shown by her saying, ‘I am daughter to his blood, I am not to his manners’ is proof that she is ashamed to be his daughter and does not agree with the actions and opinions of her father. The Elizabethan audience would think of Shylock as a cruel character who mistreats his daughter so much that she wants to run away and leave home.
When Shylock hears about his daughter running away with a Christian, he seems more concerned about the loss of his money rather than losing his only blood relative. ‘My daughter! O my ducats! O my daughter! Fled with a Christian! O my Christian ducats …’. To an Elizabethan audience and Contemporary audience Shylock would come across as a villain for caring more about money than his own daughter. Shylock may come across as being money driven as he is more distraught about losing his money than anything else.
Shylock will not be made to look weak in front of the Christians and therefore will not listen to Antonio. He is determined to get his revenge and reassure Antonio there will be no mercy for him. ‘I’ll not be made a soft and dull-eyed fool, to shake the head, relent, and sigh, and yield to Christian intercessors.’ This is showing his hatred for the Christians once again. Shylock is worried that if he listens to Antonio his mind will soften and he will be persuaded. It will show weakness in the way that he is acting. Shylock cleverly uses the insults he has been given to the Christians to his advantage. He is accusing Antonio of calling him a ‘dog’ without any reason. Since he was called a ‘dog’ he has a right to be able to behave like one now that he has a chance to. ‘Thou call’dst me a dog before thou hadst a cause, But since I am a dog, beware my fangs’. This shows that Shylock is badly treated by Antonio, Christians and shows that there is a strong prejudice against the Jews. Shylock is being cunning by using the Christian insults against them. He is taking the most savage of a ‘dog’ and saying if he is a dog in every other way, then he has fangs and can be equally as savage.
Shylock is obsessed with getting his revenge on Antonio and the Christians and his determination to go through with the bond is shown in the scene of the trial. Instead of taking three times the amount of money offered in the bond Shylock insists to go through with the bond. ‘If every ducat in six thousand ducats were in six parts, and every part a ducat, I would not draw them; I would have my bond.’ This shows us that Shylock is focused on getting revenge on the Christians. Earlier on in the play he showed that money was more important than his own daughter. Shylock thinks of getting revenge as more important than the money which shows how serious he is with the bond and that he is unlikely to change his mind on going through with what the bond says. He has no mercy turning down that much money and he will have his way no matter what, even if a large amount of money is offered to him. The Elizabethan and a Contemporary audience would find him extremely cruel and a character that has no feelings for others.
Shylock acknowledges the fact that a pound of flesh is worthless and will not have as much value as getting the bond paid back to him with interest. ‘If it will feed nothing else, it will feed my revenge’. It goes to show how much Shylock is driven by revenge and the lengths that he will go to get what he desires. Even though money is the most important thing to him, it just shows how much he desires to get revenge on the Christians since he rejected money for a chance of revenge. It just shows how passionate he is about getting his pound of flesh. ‘It will feed my revenge’ shows us that he is not doing this bond for the money but instead he is going to do to Antonio what he has been receiving for years and that will fulfil his desire to retaliate against the Christians.
In the court of justice, Portia asks Shylock whether there are balances ready to weigh the flesh. Shylock has them already prepared to weigh the flesh from Antonio. ‘I have them ready’. Shylock having the scales all ready to weigh out the pound of flesh, it shows the thirst he has for getting revenge by coming prepared but can also prove that he has been hoping for this situation to happen as he had planned it.
Jessica runs off with a Christian and he has also had his money stolen. ‘… I have a father, you a daughter lost’. Shylock has lost the only blood relative that he has left. Coming from his daughter must be a shock to him and also a great loss. Shylock is blamed for Jessica running away but she never gets blamed for stealing his money or running away from home. Instead Shylock is blamed again for something that was not necessarily his fault. Shylock considered Jessica to be his daughter and bonded by having the same flesh and blood. ‘I say, my daughter is my flesh and blood’. This implies that Shylock had always considered Jessica to be part of his family. By Jessica running away and disowning him as a father, Shylock had lost all his family related to him by blood. Jessica is the only family that Shylock has who is still alive. By her abandoning Shylock it shows there is no one left who he can call family. A modern audience will pity him for losing his only family and being abandoned just for trying to ensure the safety of his daughter. He is also upset when he hears the only belonging which he has left of his wife Leah, a jade ring has been given to a wilderness of monkeys. The audience can see that she has emotions like a regular person and is not necessarily the cruel person we perceive him to be throughout the play.
Shylock has no sympathy for Antonio due to the reason he has been treated by him in the past. Shylock is only treating Antonio how he got treated in the past. .‘He hath disgraced me … and what’s his reason? I am a Jew’. This is further evidence that Shylock is being mistreated for his religion and being hated without people getting to know him first. This makes the modern audience feel sorry for Shylock’s character and therefore he can come across as a victim for simply being judged on his religion.
Shylock feels that Christian and Jews are equal and are just as important as each other. ‘Hath not a Jew eyes? … do we not die?’. Shylock is making a speech in act two scene three making a passionate speech declaring that it does not matter if you are Jewish or a Christian people are still the same. You both die and you both have eyes to see. This brings across the message that everyone is the same and that just because you believe in a certain religion does not change your status or how you should be viewed and treated. Shylock is getting his point across to the audience that everyone is equal and therefore should be treated with the same amount of respect. By the end of the speech he changed from a victim to a villain who is determined to get revenge. ‘Why revenge. The villainy you teach me, I will execute, and it shall go hard but I will better the instruction’. He is showing his true colours and that he will not be easily convinced to spare Antonio’s life. He is following the example of the Christians and giving them the same attitude as he was given to them in the past.
In the court act four, the Duke is showing sympathy for Antonio by saying ‘I am sorry for thee. Thou art come to answer a stony adversary, an inhuman wretch, incapable of pity, void and empty from any dram of mercy’. Shylock can be seen as getting victimised as he has no way to defend himself since he is getting mistreated from when he enters the court. He did not have a chance of getting judged fairly and as a result it would lead to Shylock being seen as the one whom is revenge driven. Since the majority of the people in court are Christians they would side with Antonio making Shylock victimised by being alone and having no one to defend his side of the argument. Shylock is being lowered to the lowest someone who is not human and a person who in unable to feel any emotions. He is unable to feel sympathy for Antonio since he is going to follow his bond through. Shylock is being described as a person who is unable to feel any emotions, and as a result is not feeling any sympathy for Antonio. An Elizabethan Audience will find Shylock a victim as he is refusing to give up on the bond and is willing to follow it through to the end. However a modern audience may have sympathy for Shylock character. He is unable to defend himself against the Dukes words, and is therefore a victim.
Antonio punishes Shylock by making him become a Christian and giving half of his fortune to Antonio and the other half to his daughter. He is forced to give up everything that is important to him and which keeps him going in everyday life. ‘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’. Shylock is devastated by losing his religion and his fortune – the two things which he cherishes the most. It shows just how important those things are two him when he is willing to take his life ‘Nay, take my life and all’. He is willing to lose his life as a result of losing everything he greatly values in life. ‘You take my house when you do take the prop that doth sustain my house’ is a sign of how religion and money keep him going in his everyday life. A house is supported by a foundation, and when he says ‘you do take the prop’ is meaning that the foundation of his life is being taken away from him. He can be seen as being a victim since he is being stripped of everything that is important to him and is being forced to become a Christian even though everyone else knows how much he hates them. Shylock would be hated by the Christians when he becomes ones but at the same time he would not be allowed to be with the Jewish community anymore. As a result, it would lead to him outcast in both of the communities. He would have no friends and therefore be isolated for the rest of his life.
In conclusion Shylock can be seen as both a villain and a victim. He is driven by revenge and plots his way when he plans to come up with a way to take out his hatred for the Christians that has build up over the years. On the other hand, Shylock may also come across as being victimised. He is constantly being mistreated because of his religion being called ‘a dog’ and many other insulting words. As a result of the religion he is not liked by the Christian society and may never been seen as someone who is equal to them. Even though Shylock is viewed as both a victim and a villain he has stronger evidence as coming across as a villain since he seems driven with revenge more than anything.
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