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In the Merchant of Venice Shylock Is Described as Being the "devil" by Antonio. to What Extent Do You Believe That Shylock Is the Villain of the Play?

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In The Merchant of Venice Shylock is described as being the "devil" by Antonio. To what extent do you believe that Shylock is the villain of the play?

The character of Shylock is a complex one, and interpretations have changed over the years. For Shakespeare's contemporaries, Shylock was a villain who would have been easy to hate, exemplifying the stereotypical Jew. During the 17th Century in Venice and other places, Jews were required to wear a red hat at all times in public to make sure they were easily identified. If they didn't comply with this rule they could face the death penalty. Jews also had to live in a ghetto protected by Christians supposedly for their own safety. English society in the Elizabethan era has been described as anti-Semitic. English Jews had been expelled in the Middle Ages and were not permitted to return until the rule of Oliver Cromwell. Jews were presented on the Elizabethan stage in hideous caricature, with hooked noses and bright red wigs. But Shakespeare, compared to other playwrights at the time, in presenting Shylock, showed a much more accurate portrayal of a Jew, identifying that despite some villainous characteristics, in many ways he can be seen as a persecuted victim. It is interesting that it is not stipulated in the stage directions that Shylock should be dressed or played in a typical villainous way.

Shylock is, however, set apart from the other characters in the play by Shakespeare. His manner of speaking is very repetitive and mechanical which allows the audience to see him as an outsider. He is also hated by the Christians in the play because he lends money for profit. This is why Antonio describes him as being the "devil".

When we first meet Shylock in Act 1 he is immediately introduced as a userer. Bassanio, a Christian, seeks him out in order to borrow money. He comes to Shylock in Antonio's name - a man against whom Shylock bears a grudge: "I hate him because he is a Christian. I will feed the fat the ancient grudge I bear him". Here we see that this grudge also represents Shylock's greater hatred for all Christians, who have tormented him as a Jew. The aside gives an insight into what he is actually thinking. Shylock hates Antonio as in the past he has verbally and physically abused him for his religion. Secondly Antonio is a Christian. Thirdly, Shylock would not have approved of Antonio having lent money without interest because it would have brought down the interest rate in Venice, meaning he would earn less money.

Shylock wants to take vengeance on behalf of the the Jews and in Act 1 we learn something of Antonio's past behaviour towards him. We hear that Antonio would "spit upon" his Jewish gabardine" and call him "a misbeliever, cut throat dog." No person could endure such treatment without it affecting him and he mocks Antonio and tries to explain his hatred for him. Shakespeare ensures the audience is aware of the religious persecution Shylock has suffered. Antonio analysis here.

Bassanio's quest to borrow money from Shylock opens the door for Shylock to have the upper hand on Antonio - and Shylock sees both profit and power in the situation. It is easy to see why Antonio sees him as the "devil". The pound of flesh deal highlights the fact that Shylock's motivation is revenge rather than respect for life.

Shylock in many ways follows the traditional Jewish stereotypes common in literature at the time - his miserliness, for example. In fact he is the personification of the stereotypically greedy Jew. Shylock's function in the play is to be the obstacle, the man who stands in the way of the love stories - such a character is traditional in romantic comedies. He is meant to be a villain in terms of the comedy, but because of the complex layers Shakespeare gives him we find ourselves sympathising with him at times, while loathing him at others. This is because throughout he is presented as a victim, as well as a villain.

Firstly his clown Launcelot flees from Shylock's services and joins Bassanio. If this wasn't bad enough Shylock's daughter Jessica runs away with a Christian- Lorenzo. The pair also take a great deal of money and jewellery with them. When this occurs Shylock seems to care more about the missing money than about his daughter being gone. Soon after he is heard exclaiming, "My daughter! O my ducats! O my daughter! Fled with a Christian! O my Christian ducats!" It is typical of his miserliness, and nor does he express concern for her welfare, nor reason with himself that perhaps he may have been the cause of her leaving. But there is still a part of us that feels pity for him. It is so painful for him that not only has his daughter abandoned him, she has done so to be with a Christian. When he



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