Shylock - (n)

1.) A loan-shark.

2.) A character from The Merchant of Venice.

He is historically played with a large nose and red hair, though in our more educated times, his attire has been less comical. Shylock, a Jew, and moneylender by trade, lends Bassanio 3000 ducats upon the credit of Bassanio's best friend, Antonio. For this he demands a pound of Antonio's flesh should the bargain be forfeit. In the end, Shylock is forced to convert to Christianity and will all of his belongings to his eloped daughter upon his death.

Though Shylock is technically the antagonist in the play, it is easy to sympathize with his plight. During this period in history, Jews were harassed, killed, spit upon, and treated little better than animals (unless of course someone wanted to borrow some money). Antonio has spit upon him in the past, stolen his customers by lending money to them without interest, stolen one of Shylock's servants, who then elopes with his only daughter.

Shylock's original intentions in the loan were to actually befriend a Christian and make an ally of his enemy Antonio. The pound of flesh was merely some merry sport that they both agreed to. It is only when Shylock is robbed of his principle, his daughter, and his servant that he demands in rage to be given his due: the pound of flesh.

Unfortunately, he neglected to mention blood in the contract, and thusly was unable to collect.

Victim or Villain?

Shylock of Shakespeare's “The merchant of Venice” has been a much debated character for the last four hundred years. A character of ambiguity, Shylock is a character which can cause great debate between critics and audiences.
Over the years Shylock has been perceived in different ways; this is partly because of the time in which productions occur. In Elizabethan times Shakespearean directors may have made Shylock act more villainous. The production could be seen as a “tragicomedy” - with Shylock as its villain.

After the holocaust, Shylock would have been seen as more of a victim because people had learnt of the execution of the Jews. It would then be hard to see him as a villain as many people no longer felt hate but sympathy.
During the Elizabethan era when this Shakespearean play was written and first performed there were a lot of uncertainties about Jews- some even expelled from the country! Is that why Shakespeare wrote it? Shakespeare wrote this to perhaps tell and give people different ideas and views on Jews, did peoples views change?

The first time we see Shylock is in Act one scene three. Impressions of Shylock can easily change. I think the audience's first impression of Shylock would be one of a villain as his first thought are that of money: “Three thousand ducats, well.”
In act one scene three we see Bassanio asking Shylock for money, using Antonio to get credit. Shylock however doesn’t give Bassanio a straight answer - unlike Antonio in act 1 scene 1. There is a contrast between Shylock and Antonio and they are perceived as very different people.

Shylock uses the word “good” to describe Antonio. Bassanio thinks he means Antonio is a good man - kind and generous. However, Shylock means he is “good” meaning he has sufficient money to repay him. “...no, no,: my meaning is saying he is a good man is to have you understand me that he is sufficient.” The audience may then feel that Shylock is out for all he can get.
Shylock knows Antonio may lose his ships - where all his money is invested - but he is still prepared to lend him the money. Why? This would make the audience think he is devious and up to something. “...and then there is the perils of the waters, winds and rocks. The man is notwithstanding sufficient.... I think I might take this bond.” My first impression of Shylock is a “villain”.

Shylock has made the bond for three thousand ducats and to me is making a very big risk. We have to consider why he has decided to take the bond. Shylock knows he will get the money, how far is he willing to go to get the money?
One of the key speeches for examining Shylock’s character is act one scene three - lines 98-121 when we begin to learn a little about Shylock’s life and sufferings. In this speech we potential for him as not only a villain but a victim too.

We perceive Shylock as a victim in the content of his speech. He says about the horrid things that have happened to him; he has been “spat on, called a dog and a misbeliever, kicked and insulted”. All these terrible things make the audience think he is a victim, this is backed up with his style of speech; he uses emotive language such as: “suff’rance” and “borne it” which make the audience show sympathy.
Shylock uses poetry and here - iambic pentameter - which suggest dignity because poetry is used by more noble characters in Shakespeare, “Still I have borne it with a patient shrug”. Also, a use of a tricolon when talking about his suffering: “You call me misbeliever, cut throat dog and spat on my Jewish gabardine”. Shylock accumulates all his sufferings persuasively to the audience to make him appear more vulnerable.

However, Shylock is seen as a villain with his sarcasm as sarcasm is not an endearing trait; the audience wouldn’t empathise with this and would see Shylock as a villain. “Hath a dog money?
Shylock’s use of plosive word suggest great anger: “Shall I bend low, and in bondmans’s key with bated breath and whisp’ring humbleness.” The hissing “s” sounds suggests anger and resentment; not qualities of a victim, e.g. “Fair sir you spat on me Wednesday last...” The style shows that Shylock is acting like a villain with his use of words.

In act 3 scene 1 (lines 42-57) Shylock is perceived as a victim. There are many reasons for this, such as: when Shylock asks if Jews and Christians are equal. “Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, possessions?” Shylock asks a very good question, don’t they have all the same things? Shylock is desperately trying to show Jewish status and humanity as it has been greatly questioned during the play.
Shylock’s long, detailed list of how he has suffered at the beginning of the speech is very effective, recapping the audience of his pain and regaining sympathy. “To have it baned? What, are you answered yet?” Shylock tries to keep his humanity and show that whatever religion you are, you’re still human. I think Shylock makes a good point here, just because we all have different opinions and religions doesn’t mean we should be abused for that. Jews have been discussed for years and this just shows how racist people can be.

Later during act three scene one (lines 66-76) Shylock is potrayed as a villain because Shylock says he would rather have his daughter dead and get his jewels back: “I would my daughter dead were dead at my foot and the jewels in her ear.” That gives us a stereotypical view of a Jew with him only caring about his money.
Shylock refers to money five times during this speech and his daughter only once. Does Shylock care more for money than his daughter? Shylock’s language suggests money comes higher ranked in his priorities then his daughter. Does family really mean so little to Shylock?

The overuse of the word “o” -when referring to jewels- suggests a great sadness at losing his jewels. “O my shoulder, no sights by. O’ my breathing, no tears but o’ my shedding!” This makes Shylock seem inhuman.
In the courtroom scene of act four scene one we perceive Shylock as a victim because of the criticisms and insults of the Duke. From the beginning it is blatantly obvious that the Duke is on Antonio's side. “Go one and call the Jew into the court.” By not calling him by his name we get the impression that the Duke’s opinion of Shylock is very low.

Shylock is still though perceived very much as a villain too. Throughout out the court scene as Shylock is still firmly set on getting “pound of flesh” from Antonio. This to me shows that Shylock is cold hearted and has no sympathy for Antonio. Surely Shylock knows Antonio will die?
There is obviously something more than the bond - a silent rift maybe? Antonio offers to pay the three thousand ducats trebled but Shylock refuses saying he wants his pound of flesh. Why does he yearn for his pound of flesh so much? Shylock does himself no favours by persisting for his pound of flesh. Sympathy therefore is given to Antonio and hatred is felt towards Shylock. “What, what, what? Ill luck, ill luck?”

The court manipulate Shylock so he couldn’t kill Antonio. We do however have to bare in mind that Shylock’s bond is binding and perfectly legal meaning that Shylock has ever right to kill Antonio. The court tricked Shylock thus giving the audience the perception that Shylock is a victim, but is he?
I think I prefer Shylock as a victim because Shylock I would enjoy seeing him suffering and I feel I could make him look like a victim easier than a villain. To explain this I am going to concentrate on Act three, scene 1. To make Shylock look like a victim we could do a number of things, here are some of them:

I could dress him in stained, ragged clothing. This would make Shylock look frail, it may make the audience think he has little money and little to live for. If I say gave him a walking stick this would add to his vulnerability as not only is poorly dressed but he is having trouble walking added to the effect of a frail old man. This would make us perceive him more as a victim and feel sympathetic towards him.
Changing the lighting to make it dull and dim would show that it is a soft scene making Shylock seem vulnerable. Can lighting really change a person view on someone? When Shylock speaks slowly with pauses he shows the simplicity of his language - making his speech seem reflective and even more so persuasive. “.... mocked at my gains, scorned my nation, thwarted my bargains, cooled my friends, heated my enemies - and what is his reason? I am a Jew...”

How Shylock is positioned on the stage is vital. For Shylock to look like a villain we cannot have him standing at the front of the stage shouting - that would make him look to outgoing and villainous. If we had Shylock shouting with rage at Antonio and Antonio simply laughing this shows both characters as villains - doing them both no favours at all. Shylock needs to stand to the side of the stage looking feeble, worried and maybe even a little scared of what may happen. This would make Shylock look like he is an outsider, like he doesn’t belong, that he is a nothing.
To conclude my thoughts on Shylock as a victim or villain I have to say that I feel he could be potrayed as either my thought do not sway either way. Is he a villain? Where we all fooled? I can however see the victim in him, I can feel the pain he has and I do feel genuine sympathy for him. I think Shakespeare wrote this play to make people feel this way. Do all the audience feel like this? Has it worked? The audience are unable to decide between victim and villain, maybe that is what he wanted to achieve. A play that could keep people guessing.

In William Shakespeare's "The Merchant of Venice", there are undoubtedly times when Shylock is hated unreservedly by the audience, and yet at other times he may become a figure of sympathy. Modern perceptions of him are frequently the direct opposite of what would have been expected from the Elizabethans. In this essay, I will explore both sides of the audience’s perception of him.

Shylock’s opening line in the play is "Three thousand ducats, well." In most productions, he has already been marked by the audience as a Jew, owing to his costume and frequently exaggerated Jewish features. By immediately conforming to the Elizabethan stereotype of the Jewish moneylender, Shylock is intended to instantly set the audience against him. This does not make him a villain in itself, but it certainly makes it more likely that the audience will see his actions in an unsympathetic light later on. In a modern production, where the audience is inevitably more sensitised to the plight of the Jewish race, such instant dislike and suspicion may not appear so readily. However, at the time it was written, there can be no doubt that Shylock puts himself immediately on a bad foot with the audience. Furthermore, when Antonio asks, “Is your gold and silver ewes and rams?”, Shylock replies “I make it breed as fast.” By showing his proficiency as a banker, and his arrogance, Shylock does not endear himself to the audience, and further conforms to the stereotype of the wealthy Jewish banker.

The audience of Shakespeare's time would have been almost entirely Christian. Therefore, when Shylock says of Antonio “I hate him for he is a Christian,” he would immediately alienate most of the audience and again fails to stimulate any sympathy for himself. On the other hand, a modern audience could certainly appreciate Shylock’s point of view, given the treatment he suffers at the hands of the Christians. Not for the last time, modern perceptions of Shylock differ radically from those that Shakespeare would have seen in his own day.

Again referring to Antonio, Shylock adds "Cursed be my tribe if I forgive him." Shylock thus shows that he is bound to act in a certain way by his religion. The modern audience may feel that this loyalty to his religion is a point in Shylock’s favour; the Elizabethans were unlikely to share this opinion. To them, Shylock’s loyalty was unimportant since it was to Judaism and not to their Christianity. Shylock remarks that "Suffrance is the badge of all our tribe," and nowadays this would certainly seem stoic and shows that Shylock has humbly resigned himself to the role of the oppressed. Shylock’s speech shows that he does not complain and wallow in self-pity, but acknowledges that all Jews are fated to suffer in this way. The pathetic image of Shylock when Antonio "spits upon [Shylock’s] Jewish gabardine” undoubtedly arouses sympathy, as Shylock admits his weakness. It is when he does this that audiences today find him most sympathetic, whereas an Elizabethan crowd would think such weakness predictable from a race they so hated.

Therefore, even by the end of his first scene, perceptions of Shylock differ greatly between an audience watching today and an Elizabethan audience. In the light of the Holocaust, modern theatre-goers are inevitably more sympathetic to any Jewish character discriminated against because of his race. The Elizabethans, on the other hand, were quite the opposite, and would expect to see a Jew treated in this way. Moreover, modern performances of the play often reinterpret Shylock’s lines and present him in a more sympathetic light. The original performances would have deliberately exaggerated the negative aspects of Shylock’s character.

In the second act, Jessica remarks that she is "a daughter to [Shylock’s] blood but not to his manners." For the Elizabethans, this serves to distinguish the two characters and dissociate Jessica from the evils of her father. However, one might now interpret this line as the final stab in the back for Shylock – even his own daughter wishes to separate herself from him and – when she offers to "become a Christian, and [Lorenzo]’s loving wife” – his religion. Sympathy for Shylock is inevitably aroused when his last ally, and his "own flesh and blood", rejects him for a Christian. Shortly after, Lorenzo escapes with Jessica and "what gold and jewels she is furnished with". By stealing from her father, Jessica shows her complete loss of respect for her father, and emphasises by her actions her spiritual detachment from Shylock – and such isolation inevitably generates sympathy for him.

On the other hand, it is not long before Shylock behaves in a manner in which any audience would surely dislike him. By preventing Jessica enjoying "the vile squeaking of the wry-necked fife", Shylock demonstrates his lack of humour and, worse still, imposes this same intolerance on his daughter. This is perhaps surprising given that many of Shylock’s lines can be interpreted as sarcastic and laced with black humour, but it shows a side to Shylock’s character that would not generate sympathy even in a modern audience. In a similar vein, when Shylock discovers his daughter has eloped, he cries "Find the girl! She hath the stones upon her and the ducats." Hence Shylock suggests that his only motivation for finding his daughter is to return his wealth. However, as the audience discover later in the play, Shylock has a special sentimental attachment to the stone from his days as a bachelor. Additionally, this speech is reported by Salarino, who – as a Christian and a friend of Antonio – inevitably exaggerates the words of Shylock to portray him in a negative light. A modern audience would therefore take his amusing performance with a pinch of salt. However, an Elizabethan audience might have taken his report as an honest one, implicitly trusting the Christian character.

It is with his famous "Hath not a Jew eyes" speech that Shylock begins to reverse his role as a villain even in the eyes of an Elizabethan audience. Perhaps this speech even opened the eyes of some of Shakespeare's original audience to the hopeless process of discrimination, and the scene completely undermines any argument that Shakespeare was himself anti-Semitic. Here, Shylock generates his own sympathy from the audience, and demonstrates that his own Christian-hating behaviour is a product of the way he is treated.

In the third act, Shylock’s vengeful "I thank God, I thank God" on hearing of Antonio’s ships’ misfortune seems to counteract any sympathy he had summoned so far. This is simply Shylock being vengeful and wishing to carry out his execution of Antonio. Also, the repetition of the word "God" from a "faithless Jew" would have seemed ironic to an Elizabethan audience. On the other hand, Shylock is under much strain at this stage in the play, due to the flight of his daughter, and so perhaps his vindictive desires can be excused a little. Nevertheless, to an audience looking for character flaws in the Jewish character, Shylock will certainly gain no support from this comment.

During the famous trial scene, Shylock repeats "I’ll have my bond" several times. Shylock is confident that the legality of the contract cannot be disputed, and plans to show Antonio no mercy. In Shakespeare’s time, the audience would have found such mercilessness to a Christian character, especially one of Antonio’s popularity, quite unforgivable, and again Shylock fails to stimulate any sympathy for his cause. However, a modern audience could quite easily see that, since Antonio has "many a time and oft rated [Shylock] for [his] usances", Shylock now sees his chance for revenge, and intends to be as unrelenting as Antonio. Antonio himself shows no tolerance – "I’m as like to call thee [a cur] again" – and so cannot expect to receive any better treatment himself. Shylock reverses Antonio’s words in the phrase "Since I am a dog, beware my fangs" – that is to say, having been abused for so long, he will not hesitate to turn the tables on Antonio.

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