The Merchant of Venice Essay Help

Report
Exemplar Paragraphs

Shylock:
The complexity and
success of Shylock’s
character depends on
how the audience
perceive him. Discuss
whether you think that
Shakespeare intended
Shylock to be portrayed
as “villain or victim”?


Use TART to structure.
The Merchant of Venice’ by William
Shakespeare is a play with a complex main
protagonist. Many have thought Shakespeare
himself to harbour anti-Semitic feeling
through his depiction of Shylock; whereas
others believe Shylock to be his outcry against
this very thing. This can be seen through his
multi-faceted depiction of Shylock and the
difficultly the audience have in placing him as
either victim or villain. I will attempt to discuss
the portrayal of Shylock’s character through
Shakespeare’s use of language, stage
directions, character…

The Oxford dictionary defines a villain as “a person
or thing responsible for specified problems, harm, or
damage” and whilst it is probably true that Shylock
could fit this definition; we are left to question
whether or not he is the only one. In addition, we are
left pondering if it is because of this very “harm and
damage” endured at the hands of a Venetian
Christian society that Shylock is compelled into the
action that he takes within the play or if it is down to
his own deep-rooted religious prejudice. This conflict
is central to the ideas explored in the play and
provide the crux of the dilemma surrounding
Shylock's character – did Shakespeare desire to
portray a villain or a victim though the complex
protagonist of Shylock? I intend to examine this
through examination of Shakespeare’s use of
dramatic techniques.


From the outset of the play, Shylock is depicted as a character who is
obsessed with money.
This is reinforced when the audience learn of his means of employment, as
a Jewish moneylender, and of the root of his feelings towards Antonio:
“Shylock (aside): How like a fawning publican he looks. I hate him for
he is a Christian; but more, for that in low simplicity He lends out
money gratis and brings down the rate of usance here with us in
Venice.” (Act Iiii 38-48)
The stage direction used here reveals to the audience Shylock’s true
feelings regarding Antonio and the basis of his hatred of him, incited not
only by religious prejudice “but more” for financial and business reasons.
Shylock’s condemnation of Antonio as a “fawning publican” gives an insight
to the root of his dislike of Antonio as somebody who openly mistreats the
Jewish community, collecting taxes, in order to win favour in the eyes of
those in power in Venice, suggested by the word “fawning,” a slight on
Antonio’s character. In addition Shylock feels vindicated in his profession
as this was one of the only means of employment open to Venetian Jews.
However, ironically this is the root of his scorn and mistreatment at the
hands of Christian Venice, as Christianity does not condone the idea/
practice of lending money for interest. With this context in mind, Shylock’s
unnatural concern with money seems even slightly excusable, whereas his
blatant hatred based upon religious difference seems completely
unjustified at this point in the play; especially when Antonio has been cast
initially in the role of kind-hearted and loyal friend to Bassanio.




When we are next introduced to Antonio, the initial impression that
the audience have of him, is altered by his complete disregard and
callous treatment of Shylock:
“You call me misbeliever, cut-throat dog, And spit upon my
Jewish gaberdine, And all for use of that which is mine own”…
This reveals the true extent of the mistreatment that Shylock has
suffered at the hands of Venetian Christians as Antonio’s sickening
actions here convey a complete lack of dignity for a fellow human
being as he treats Shylock as nothing more than a lowly animal based
upon his Jewish identity.
This allows the audience feel some sense of sympathy for Shylock
and his earlier ill-feeling as we are repulsed by Antonio’s actions in
this scene. This feeling is further enhanced by Antonio’s complete
lack of remorse when he says “ I am as like to class thee so again,
To spit on thee again, to spurn thee too” despite the fact that he
is the one seeking something from Shylock. This highlights just how
justified the Christian community felt the were in their treatment
of Jewish people and how appalling this was. This serves to highlight
the theme of religious prejudice upon which the central conflict of
the play hinges and make it much less clear-cut as to who is really
the villain and who is the victim.
Shylock (aside) How like a fawning publican he looks. I hate him for he is a Christian; but more, for that in low simplicity He lends out money gratis and brings
down the rate of usance here with us in Venice.” (Act Iiii 38-48)
“Three thousand ducats, well” (Act Iiii onwards)
“(aside) How like a fawning publican he looks. I hate him for he is a Christian; But more
that in low simplicity he lends out money gratis and brings down the rate of usance
here with us in Venice.” (Act Iiii lines 38 onwards)
“You call me misbeliever, cut-throat dog, And spit upon my Jewish gaberdine, And all for use of
that which is mine own”… (Act Iiii103-126)
“As the dog Jew did utter in the streets: ‘My daughter! Oh my ducats! Oh my daughter! Fled
with a Christian! Oh my Christian ducats! Justice! The law! My ducats and my daughter! (Act
II 8)
“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”…(III.i.49–61)
“What if my house be troubled with a rat, And I be pleased to give ten thousand ducats
To have it baned? What, are you answered yet?”... (IV.i.43–61)
“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. Why sweat they under burdens?”. . .(IV.i.89–99)

similar documents