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Even though Shylock is one of the main characters in the play “The Merchant of Venice”, he is treated as an unimportant person by the other characters. He is one of the least respected characters and is treated like an outsider by the society. I will be discussing the dialogue and actions of Antonio and Jessica to show how other characters make Shylock seem insignificant.
Antonio does not like Shylock because he is a Jew and he shows this hatred towards him openly. He does not just call Shylock a misbeliever and a cut-throat dog, but also treats him like one by spitting on him on the Rialto. He then says to Shylock in Act 1, Scene iii “I am as like to call thee so again, To spit on thee again”. This shows us that even though Antonio is asking Shylock for money, he still does not like or respect him and that he still treats Shylock like an inferior person.
Antonio does not have anything good to say about Shylock. In Act 1, Scene iii Antonio says “The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose. An evil soul producing holy witness is like a villain with a smiling cheek”. He describes Shylock as a devil and evil. This shows that Antonio does not trust Shylock and he mocks him, even though he is agreeing to a bond with him. Shylock confirms this in Act 3, Scene i when he says “He hath disgraced me, and hindered me half a million, laughed at my losses, mocked at my grains”.
Jessica does not show very much affection towards her father either. In Act 2, Scene iii she tells Lancelot that the house is hell and that he is the only one who makes it worth staying there. She then goes further and says that she is ashamed to be her father’s child. She may be a daughter to his blood, but not to his manners. In Act 2, Scene vi she says “I have a father, you a daughter, lost”. She does not have anything good to say about her father and she degrades him with every word that she says.
She has so little respect for her father that she steals from him in the end and then runs away with a Christian called Lorenzo. In Act 2, Scene iv Jessica says “If thou keep promise, I shall end this strife, Become a Christian and thy loving wife”. She takes two thousand ducats and priceless jewellery with her. Shylock then later finds out that Jessica sold her mother’s ring (that she stole) and sold it for a monkey in Genoa. All her actions show us that she disrespects her father in every way.
As stated in the book “Cardozo Studies in Law and Literature”, by Susan Oldrieve, Jews can be seen as symbolic of absolute otherness. They are associated with the flesh and not the spirit. The actor, Dustin Hoffman, also said “He [Shylock] is torn to shreds emotionally by the society around him. He becomes the very thing that’s reduced himâ€¦ that’s taken his humanity away”. We can clearly see that this statement is true throughout the play “The Merchant of Venice”. Through the actions of the people around Shylock we can clearly see that he is an outsider and not a much liked character.
According to Nicole Smith (in an article on articlemyriad.com) Shakespeare makes Shylock an unlikable and untrustworthy character to the audience as well, because he is unreasonable and greedy. You can later feel compassion for Shylock’s character as you realise why he is so greedy and acts the way he does. He completely withdraws himself from society, because he is a victim of racism. No one sees him for anything else but Shylock the Jew. You cannot help but feel a little sympathetic for his character.
The society and characters around Shylock constantly degrade him and make him seem insignificant. Their spoken words and actions show this to us. One cannot help but to both dislike and feel sorry for his character at the same time.
Word count: 682
Jonathan Morris & Robert Smith. Cambridge School Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice. 8th ed. The Edinburgh Building, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Nicole Smith. 7 December 2011. Character Analysis of Shylock in “The Merchant of Venice” by William Shakespeare. http://www.articlemyriad.com/character-analysis-shylock-merchant-venice/ 19 March 2013.
Susan Oldrieve. Cardozo Studies in Law and Literature. 5th ed. 2000 Center Street, Suite 303, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
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