The late sixteenth century play "ÃÂThe Merchant of Venice', one of Shakespeare's more popular comedies, is one that is portraying various peoples lives throughout Venice and Belmont. During the course of the play there is a concentration of thoughts and emotions towards the character Shylock, a Jewish usurer, this is the very character that we shall be concentrating the question in the title on. In most scenes the character Shylock has to deal with a lot of racial discrimination, which has at modern times become unacceptable to most people. Elizabethan society was largely anti-Semitic and as such the audience would have been unsympathetic towards his character. In addition to their anti-Semitic ways they also had a strong dislike of moneylenders, and the audience would have had a certain loathing for the character Shylock, which would no longer occur at present times. There are two very different opinions of Shylock that we will be discussing, victim or a villain.
Both sides of Shylock's personality are portrayed throughout "ÃÂThe Merchant of Venice.' Many of the characters in the play look upon Shylock as a villain, but this indeed might just be a biased opinion because of the love that they have for a fellow friend, who's life has been put at stake due to a bond connecting the two. This then leads to the key question: is Shylock a mean spiteful moneylender with no intention of mercy or is he a victim to severe racial abuse, which in turn is a severe victimization.
Although there is a great amount of evidence from other characters accusing that Shylock is a villain there is a small amount that shows Shylock to be a perfect victim to severe racial abuse from most characters that are in the play, that even includes his daughter to some extent. The first impressions that we get of Shylock are important because they tend influence the audiences opinion of the character from the first few lines. For Shylock, unfortunately, his first line doesn't engender a very positive thought about his character to the audience; " Three Thousand ducats, well. " (Act: 1 Scene: 3 Line: 1) This is the first introduction of the character, Shylock, and is immediately on the subject of money, this is most likely an attempt from Shakespeare to get the audience to feel that loathing for the character. The importance of Shylock's first lines being money related is to try and show what he really cares about in life and to show that he is a usurer. As this being Shylock's first Scene he doesn't really catch the audience as being a good character and he is also obviously conveying feelings or the lack of feelings that he has for the character Antonio. He gives two reasons for this; "How like a fawning publican he looks! I hate him for he is a Christian." (Act: 1 Scene: 3 Lines: 37-8) This statement that is given by Shylock doesn't give the audience much of a reason for having a preference to the character. He appears to me to be unthankful and certainly not trustworthy, however we do discover that Shylock's apparent hate for Antonio has a just cause when we track some terrible afflictions that Antonio has done to the usurer; "You call me misbeliever, cut throat dog, And spit on my Jewish gabardine," (Act: 1 Scene: 3 Lines: 107-8) This is clearly showing that Shylock is perhaps a victim to attacks from a racist villain Christian, Antonio. Shylock does seem to feel very passionate about his religion, which in turn makes him even more unpopular among the characters in the play; "...Hath not A Jew eyes, Hath not a Jew hands, organs dimensions, senses, passion..." (Act: 3 Scene: 1 Lines: 54-6) this is part of a very passionate speech delivered by Shylock portraying the injustice that the Jewish people receive from the Christian faith. Shylock makes this speech very powerful by using repetition in his lines and by using lists, this creates a more dramatic and emotional effect towards the audience. Shylock has a great dislike of the way that he has been treated by Antonio and his other friends so his only way to get back at him is to look at the bond, which has been made if the debt of three thousand ducats is not repaid in the allocated time. This speech would seem to be so drastic as Shylock is being put through a very hard time seeing as his own daughter has run of with a Christian by the name of Lorenzo, this has outraged Shylock not only because of the fact that she is seeing a Christian but because she has also stolen money from him when she left; "Of double ducats , stol'n from me by my daughter" (Act: 2 Scene: 8 Line: 19) We learn about Shylock's losses in this scene being of his daughter and of his money, but we do not learn it from Shylock we get it from Solanio, and in a lot of scenes we actually get to build up a picture of his character when he is not present in the scene. In scene one of the third act Shylock learns from, Tubal, a fellow Jewish businessman that Antonio's fleet has suffered ill fortune at sea. Tubal also tells Shylock that one of the sailors had a ring of Jessica, which she swapped for a monkey; "One of them showed me a ring that he had of your daughter for a monkey." (Act:3 Scene:1 Lines:112-3) Upon this point we learn that Shylock may have once been a passionate man and perhaps he even still is as he quotes that the ring was given to him by his wife now thought to be dead. Shylock says that he would not have parted with the ring for a wilderness of monkeys; "Out upon her Thou torturest me, Tubal: it was my turquoise; I had it of Leah when I was a bachelor: I would not have given it for a wilderness of monkeys" (Act:3 Scene:1 Lines:114-7) this quote shows that deep down that Shylock has great emotional feelings, but he does not share them as that is the only mention of a relationship we get from Shylock. This put with previous evidence produces a judgment between the goodness of Shylock's heart, however when he hears of the misfortune that Antonio's ships has suffered he appears to be happy that he can seek his revenge on Antonio and cut his pound of flesh; "I thank thee, good Tubal. Good news, good news!" (Act:3 Scene:1 Line: 100) this really shows Shylock gloating about winning the bond theoretically. The next scene is the court scene which passes on a lot of strong feelings for almost all of the characters. In the scene Shylock is very eager that the law should be kept and that he gets his bond to which his has sworn. The Duke who is also the judge pleads with Shylock for mercy towards Antonio, to which Shylock just refuses and insists on keeping the bond, thus showing his pure hatred which he holds for Antonio. Shylocks actions in this scene show to the audience that he has no merciful side to his personality in addition to the cruelty that he has already portrayed. Because of these actions Shylock gets insulted most of the way through he scene in the same sort of manner mostly concentrating on his lack of mercy; "This is no answer, thou unfeeling man, To excuse the current of thy cruelty." (Act:4 Scene:1 Lines: 63-4) it is at this point that most of the audience will agree with the Duke and Bassiano that Shylock is indeed a villain. Last efforts come from Portia, who is disguised as a lawyer, to try and get Shylock to agree to some form of mercy, Portia starts to explain the importance of mercy and how it can not be forced from man but that it has to come naturally. Despite this speech and its powerful meaning Shylock appears to be unmoved and still claims his bond. Just as things seem to be going in the direction of Shylock, Portia manages to bend the bond saying that Shylock can have an exact pound of flesh but he can not shed one drop of blood as that is not in the bond. Due to this new arrangement in the bond Shylock suddenly backs out of the bond. Considering that Portia has just said a moving speech about the importance of having mercy, she herself becomes a hypocrit not showing any mercy for the dealings with Shylock.
"The Jew shall have all justice; soft! no haste:- He shall have nothing but the penalty" (Act:4 Scene:1 Lines: 319-20) This among other things allows you to judge the overall fairness of the trial, you do have to consider that all of the members of the court are going to be of a Christian faith. All of these characters in turn are going to be in support of Antonia and against Shylock, even the Duke who is playing the judge are against him. Even though his bond for Antonio had failed he had to suffer the consequences: he had to give half of his wealth to the state and upon his death the other half would go to his daughter Jessica and her lover Lorenzo in addition to this Shylock also had to become a Christian. By the end of this scene Shylock is very distraught, some people may think that Shylock got what he deserved for being a villain and others may well think that he is a victim who has been brought to justice unfairly.
Personally I think that Shylock is more a victim than he is a villain, he has bad parts to him, for example the choice of bond, but we also get to learn that there is a sensitive caring person deep down in his soul, as we learn from his reaction to losing his ring. Shylock is a passionate person who has been hidden by a toughened exterior which has grown harder due to the racial attacks from people like Antonio, who has been made out as the supposed victim in "The Merchant of Venice."