Discuss Shylock as either victim or villain, with reference to his performance in the Merchant of Venice The Merchant of Venice was written by William Shakespeare in the Elizabethan period. The play is a tragi-comedy written in his second period. It is set in Venice in the late 15 th century. Venice is situated in the north-east of Italy and is known as Queen of the Adriatic for its strong naval power.
The play is about Shylock a Jewish money lender trying to make a living and survive in a country that despises him and alienates him. In this period England was a Christian country, all children would be baptised soon after they were born, and were taught the essentials of the Christian faith at an early age. Attendance at church was compulsory; if you failed to go without a good medical reason you would most definitely be fined. Before the plot even starts, Shylock is condemned by the audience for being a Jew, and a moneylender.
At this time in England the Christians hated the Jews, because of their profession of lending money, which the Christians by religion are unable to do. Jews were often forbidden to own land or engage in trade in England so the only occupation open to them was money lending which they exploited to the full. There was a great opposition between Christians and Jews in Venice, it was for example the centre of the Venetian community was Christian and around the perimeter of Venice lived the Jews, who were excluded from the rest of Venice. They were portrayed as inferior, and marginalized, because of their religion.
Shakespeare took a big risk in this play as he portrayed the inhumanity showed to Jews and could have lost his life, if he portrayed Jews so well that offended the queen or if the audience disliked it and took offence. Luckily for Shakespeare he was able to capture sympathy and understanding from the audience towards Shylock. In the play Venice is mad to look wealthy and a desirable place to be. This is to do with the trade routes crossing straight through Venice, carrying wonders from the East by land and West by sea. The play was unable to be set in England because the intolerance of Jews by Christians was a very controversial issue at the time. If the audience was to see that a Jew had some times been right, and that Christians were being out of line and made to look out witted.
Then no one would see his play and Shakespeare would most certainly lose his head. So if its set some where else it allows the audience to distance them selves from their very similar issue. Shylocks first line in the play is Three thousand ducats. This can be seen in two ways; as a man making a living at one of the very few occupations open to him, or a greedy cold materialistic man. I think he fits the cold greedy character more, because he makes such a big point about locking up the house and really gets annoyed with his daughter for failing to. He ends up reducing his daughter to tears by striking her, thus making the point of locking up his house and protecting his possessions.
This shows him as a victim and a villain scared of the outside world and mistreated so much that he feels its necessary to hit his only family member in order to emphasise the importance of protecting what is his. Shylock is left alone with no family, as Jessica, his daughter, elopes with Lorenzo, a friend of Bassanio. Shylock earns pity from the audience when he tells Bassanio that, My daughter is my flesh and blood, meaning that with her gone it is as if a part of him has been taken too. He turns into a villain when he screams in rage showing his emotions and strong views My daughter! O my ducats! O my daughter! Fled with a Christian! Only Christian ducats! This shows his hatred for Christians, that his property has more value to him than his daughters life. Shylocks famous plea for equality in Act three, Scene Five, shows him as a victim. Whats his reason 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. Shylock is trying to say that we are all the same as one another, but just have different religions. Antonio has gone bankrupt, as all his wealth was invested in his ships which have been sunk out at sea. Shylocks bond has now been activated and he demands his rightful pound of flesh under Venetian law. Shylock is represented as a villain, in the court scene in Act Four, Scene One.
He walks in and places the scales of justice, on the table taking off his Jewish gabardine. The court scene is Shylocks only chance for some justice, if not in the bond then as a way of revenge for how he has been treated all his life. The court is very one sided from the minute Shylock is ordered in by the judge. Go on, and call the Jew into the court This shows the judge as being biased against Jews and Shylock, even before they start. He is blatantly influencing the court, with his own prejudiced views; thus Shylock is having an unfair trail.
He is being judged in a Christian court, not a court of law. Shylock wants his form of justice in his bond he made with Antonio, who is known as the merchant of Venice, which is where the title of the play comes from. Shylock lent Bassanio three thousand ducats on behalf of Antonio. The bond was that a pound of flesh nearest to his heart could be taken if the money was not paid. Antonio assumed this was a sure thing that his ships carrying goods would come into port with ample amount of money, though Antonios ships were lost at sea thus making the bond active.
During the trial Shylock loses the sympathy of the audience, by his words and actions. He takes out his blade and starts sharpening it on his shoes destroying any chances that he will show mercy. He is ready to cut into Antonios flesh when Portia stops him, The bond doth give thee here no jot of blood The words expressly are a pound of flesh. Portia reveals that there is a flaw in the bond.
Shylock is allowed his pound of flesh but not a drop of blood, which would surely come if he enters his skin. If thou doest shed one drop of Christian blood, thy lands and goods are, by the laws of Venice, confiscated unto the state of Venice. The bond that Shylock had created has ruined his plan for revenge. The one thing that Shylock cares for more than anything will now be taken from him if he takes his justified revenge. The tables are now turned, with Venetian law saying that a penalty must be paid by an alien attempting to murder a Venetian. Still Shylock is classed as an alien in his home.
Shylocks possessions are confiscated because of the attempted murder of Antonio. Antonio now makes two conditions for his life: firstly he must become Christian, and, secondly, he must make a will leaving all of his possessions to Jessica and Lorenzo. Not only has Shylock been converted to a Christian and humiliated in court, but friend his Tubal, another Jew, walked out on him as he very nearly carved a pound of flesh from Antonio. At the sight of this his only friend left him. So without his revenge, wealth, and his daughter, now he is alienated from his fellow Jews. Ironically he is left alone with nothing but what ruined him; his new found Christianity.
Shylock can be seen as both comic and tragic because of his quick-witted responses, almost playing with the insults that are thrown at him from day to day. And tragic because of the loss of his daughter, friend and possessions. I think because he has been driven to the edge of insanity, from the torment and prejudice pushed on him throughout his life by his own Venetian community. That has led him to such misfortune and bitterness. We visited the National Theatre in London to watch their adaptation of The Merchant of Venice. Their costumes and use of lighting really set the scene.
It was set in the 1920 s to 1930 s so the men were dressed in clean cut executive suits. This is to show the rich trade at the time, with the trade routes crossing at Venice. It shows they are all part of a big organisation. The wealth is shown in the props, with their lush marble floor and maids and butlers running around for their employers. Shylock is portrayed as the stereotypical Jew with the black hair and beard with the skullcap.
The period of the play links in well with the holocaust where millions of Jews were killed. At the end of the play, Jessica, Shylock's daughter created a sort of harmony she sings at the end, as she is welcomed into the Christian community. She sings a Jewish song and is happy and content. This shows that the fact that Shylock is a Jew was not his downfall it was his evil villainous rage, while Jessica a Jew has found peace.