Merchant of Venice – Shylock: Villain or Victim
In the play Merchant of Venice, there is always a lot of controversy about whether Shylock is a victim or a villain. The definition of victim is a person who dies or suffers as a result of voluntarily undertaking some enterprise or pursuit. Meaning someone who dies or suffers as a result of his or her own actions is still a victim. In accordance with the definition, in my opinion Shylock is a victim. When we first start to read the play, as a Jew Shylock is put at a huge disadvantage. 400 years ago when Shakespeare wrote the play, racism was commonplace.
Shylock was written to be hated! As a result the audience and characters were prejudice towards Shylock as he tells us in Act 1 Scene 3 Signor Antonio, many a time.. thus much moneys? You could say he was a victim of societys discrimination and bigotry. He was indeed a victim as he was looked down on and had to under go hardships put on him by the community. Antonio was one those citizens in the community who tormented Shylock. Antonio constantly insulting Shylock as shown in Act 1 Scene 3 I am as like to call thee so again.. Exact the penalty
Shylock simply replies saying he would have Antonios friendship and forgive him for what he has done Why look you.. This is kind I offer But Antonio still rejects Shylock for he is a Jew, but never the less Shylock is still willing to lend the money. If Shylock was truly a bad person he would have not even listened to the proposal of Bassanio and Antonio and would have wanted nothing to do with them, but as we can see from the above quotes, Shylock is actually a good person and is willing to forget and forgive Antonio for how he has mistreated him.
Not only does he suffer abuse from the local community and society as a whole, his own daughter Jessica steals from him before running away with her lover Lorenzo, a Christian and good friend of Antonio. Jessica not only stole ducats she also took the ring he received from his now departed wife Leah. He has lost his only daughter to a Christian and he has lost the ring in which he kept in remembrance of his deceased wife. This has put him through even more pain as we can tell by how he describes his agony and sorrow in Act 3, Scene 1 Once upon her.. for a wilderness of monkeys
This is yet another valid reason why Shylock should be analysed as a victim. The previous act would have only added to Shylocks strong hatred for Christians and Antonio. After his daughter abandoned him for Lorenzo and after Antonio himself continues to abuse Shylock, it is understandable why Shylock wants vengeance upon him. The motive behind Shylocks decision has simply been an act of revenge to Antonio as Shylock says in Act 3, Scene 1 To bait fish withal.. I will better the instruction He is human as all of us are and as humans we all let emotions get in the way when making decisions such as for love, anger or sympathy.
We all have done this at least once, but does that make us villains? Just because Shylock has acted on revenge as most of us do, it doesnt make him a villain. He is simply just a victim to human emotions. After so much suffering, Shylock took Antonio to court so that he could get his part of the bond. The bond was a pound of flesh from Antonios chest. Although this may seem murderous, Shylock was so filled with rage and fury he did not show any mercy when he most likely would have if Antonio had not provoked him. Shylock says in Act 3 Scene 3 Thou calldst me a dog.. beware my fangs.
He is stating that Antonio insulted him before he did anything wrong, but now that he has been insulted, Antonio should expect him to be vengeful. This quote proves that Shylocks actions are only a result of Antonios abuse, yet Shylock has been the one to ultimately pay. In the court it was decided that Shylock would have to give up all of his possessions and wealth as well as convert to Christianity. So not only did he have to give up all his assets, wealth and belongings, he had to suffer the ultimate humiliation for a Jew. Even more evidence to why Shylock should be classified as a victim, not villain.
In conclusion as we have discussed above, Shylock is indeed a victim on more than one account. He has been discriminated against for being a Jew, he has suffered repeated abuse from Antonio and his friends, he has lost his family and he has lost all of his possessions and wealth leaving him alone and penny-less in sorrow. When most people read the play they immediately interpret Shylock as a villain. That may be the readers own prejudice because Shylock is without doubt a victim as he has suffered losing everything; money, pride and even his family.