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"The Merchant of Venice" is set in 16th century Venice. Venice became a trade centre as it is located on the coast, surrounded by a large mass of water; because of this structure, distribution of goods was easy as it was very accessible to surrounding countries. It is the perfect setting for discrimination towards the Jews to occur as they had to live in a ghetto, separated from Christian kind. Being a Jew, Shylock had very few career choices with the only real option being a money lender. Shylock shows both characteristics of victim and villainy, this is shown many ways during the play when Shylock has been mistreated and is out to get revenge. An example of this would be when shylock is angered by his mistreatment from the Christian Antonio, and then later schemes to get revenge by the formulation of the bond, demanding for a pound of Antonio's flesh as a forfeit of the loan.
Shylock is often a victimised man in "The Merchant of Venice." The Oxford dictionary defines the word "victim" as someone or something which has been hurt, damaged or killed or has suffered, either because of the actions of someone or something else, or because of illness or chance This is certainly the case with Shylock when the Christians, especially the merchant Antonio treats Shylock cruelly and mercilessly on a daily basis, "You call me misbeliever, cut-throat dog, And you spit upon my Jewish gabardine," The words "spit" and "dog" show that he is completely disrespected and receives a great amount of abuse which a modern audience would find distasteful and I feel very sympathetic about what Shylock would have gone through.
Not only did Shylock get mistreated by Christians, he was also a victim of theft by his own daughter, "here catch this casket". Furthermore, when she stole the jewels, Jessica abandoned her own father when she eloped with Lorenzo and then converted her religion to Christianity, showing that Shylock is truly a victim of circumstance. Shylock, a truly broken man feels like a part of him is missing and turns to Tubal who is a very close friend of his. To add insult to injury, Shylock discovers that Jessica traded his most prized possession, a "turquoise ring" which was a present from his late wife, for a monkey. "I had it of Leah when I was a bachelor: I would not have given it for a wilderness of monkeys." The word "wilderness" shows that he would not have traded the ring for several thousand monkeys, let alone one monkey. The ring was the only piece of Leah he had left. Although I feel very sympathetic towards Shylock at this point in the story, an Elizabethan audience would find the attitude towards a Jewish man humorous and would laugh at Shylock's despair.
I see Shylock as a man with a plea for equality, as he gets treated like an animal, locked up in ghetto where he has to sleep, separated from the Christians and continually being called names on a daily basis. In the bible, Jesus teaches us to treat each other fairly with respect and love; "You shall love your neighbour as yourself" however the Christians in "The Merchant of Venice" go against everything their own religions have taught them, making Shylock a victim, a broken man with hardly anything or anyone to turn to. "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?" In this speech Shylock is distraught, I see him as a man who just wants justice and wants all faiths to be equal. In this speech, Shylock asks rhetorical questions repeatedly for emphasis in what he is saying. We see shylock becoming a broken man at the trial scene this becomes evident when they address him as "Jew" instead of his name. "Go on, and call the Jew into the court" Shylock is being called by his religion as a sign of disrespect. Then once again for being victimised for being a Jew, Shylock suffers from hubris in the court scene when Portia brings his hopes up for succeeding with the bond, she then crashes them back down, resulting in Shylock having to change his religion to Christianity. We see him as a truly broken man, a social outcast in the eyes of the Jews.
Although constantly victimised, Shylock also shows a great deal of villainy. The Oxford dictionary defines the word "villain" as a person who is guilty or capable of a crime or wickedness; a wrongdoer; a character in a novel or play whose evil actions or motives are important to the plot. Shylock is predominately a villain. This is most obvious with the formulation of the bond, "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 quotation shows the price which Antonio has to pay if he fails to return the money, I see this as an opportunity for Shylock to be a revenge seeking villain, with the intention to kill Antonio. The word "pleaseth" shows that Shylock gets to decide which part of the body the flesh comes from, this becomes "nearest the heart" which shows the hunger he truly has for Antonio's flesh.
Furthermore, Shylocks mistreatment of Jessica shows that he is an irresponsible and uncaring father. He imprisons her from the world he chose to live in. "Lock up my doors; and when you hear the drum... ..But stop my house's ears-I mean casements. Let not the sound of shallow fopp'ry enter My sober house." Shylock is portrayed as a villain as he orders Jessica about, almost like a slave. The phrase "Lock up my doors" shows that Shylock has no respect for his own daughter and just commands her to do as he says. In addition, Shylock seems to value his ducats more than the loss of his daughter, "O my daughter! Fled with a Christian! Only Christian ducats!"
Shylock shows that he is a heartless villain when he finds out from Tubal that Antonio's ships are lost at see. Shylock and Tubal were discussing the merchant's shipwreck from Tripoli and Shylock openly said "I thank thee, good Tubal. Good news, good news! Ha, ha! Heard in Genoa?" Later in their discussion Tubal tells Shylock of Antonio's bankruptcy and again Shylock is delighted as he knows as he can extract the pound of flesh "I am very glad of it: I'll plague him I'll torture him: I am glad of it." The words "plague" and "torture" show that Shylock is thirsty for Antonio's flesh and is showing villainy and greed.
Shylocks hunger for Antonio's flesh becomes more apparent in the trial scene, "Why dost thou whet thy knife so earnestly?" Shylock sharpens his knife to prepare to cut the pound of flesh out of Antonio's body. The word "earnestly" shows he has serious intent on killing Antonio. Shylock has no intention on leaving the court without the pound of flesh, "I'll have my bond; speak not against my bond: I have sworn an oath that I will have my bondâ€¦â€¦I'll have my bondâ€¦.I'll have my bond" Shylock repeats the phrase "I'll have my bond" for emphasis that he is completely confident in receiving a pound of Antonio's flesh, which is closest to the heart. Not only did Shylock insist on getting his "bond" he also refused "thrice" the sum of money of the original loan. "And lawfully by this the Jew may claim A pound of flesh, to be by him cut off Nearest the merchant's heart. Be merciful: Take thrice thy money; bid me tear the bond." Shylock refused mercy, which shows greed, villainy and that he is a truly evil man, with the intention to kill. Shylock also said that he would not accept "ten times o'er" the amount of money, mainly because he wants the bond instead of the money which shows that evil thought is dominant in his mind.
In conclusion Shylock is a villain, evil is dominant in his thought, largely due to his mistreatment by the Christians. Even though he has been mistreated by Christians, it does not justify taking someone's life. Shylock gets his retribution at the end of the play when he is forced to convert his religion to Christianity, resulting in him becoming a social outcast, in the eyes of his family, the Jews and the Christians. Shakespeare's plays speak to a modern audience, outlining right from wrong. I feel that anti-Semitism and prejudice are big themes in this play, as they speak to the reader regarding these issues as much today as they did in the past.