In the 16th century Jews were discriminated against especially in England and Venice. Christians believed that the Jewish race was inferior to them and that Jews should not be accepted into their society. There were very few Jews in England in this period this was mainly due to the fact that Edward had been lent money by several Jewish money lenders, he became unable to repay the money he owed them, and as a result sent them into exile. The remaining Jewish population were hated even more. In Venice, Jews were not given equal opportunities.
They were unable to own land or work in the country as anything other than money lenders people resented them for charging interest on the money they lent which was their only income. Not many people wanted to do this type of work anyway, as money lenders were very unpopular so they left it to the Jews. This was extremely unfair as the Jews had to rely upon the people living in Venice to survive in the country. In Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice Shylock ,a Jewish money lender is hated by Antonio (the merchant of Venice) firstly because of his religion, and secondly because of his profession.
Antonio thinks that Shylock is wrong for charging interest on the money he lends out. ( Antonio is very wealthy so he can do this, it is also not his profession. ) Antonios reasons for hating Shylock would have reflected the views of Shakespeare’s audience. Shakespeare has made Shylock a very avaricious character we see this aspect of him as soon as he enters the play with his first words 3000 ducats. This characteristic is shown in several parts of the play. To its extreme when Jessica,his daughter runs away taking his money and jewels with her, he says I would my daughter were dead at my foot,and the jewels in her ear.
This shows he cares more about his money and jewels than he does about his own daughter being found alive. In Shylocks first scene it becomes clear he is miserly he spends a long time debating whether or not to lend Bassanio the 3000 ducats. The main reason for his delayed response is he likes to have control over the situation which is not usually the case. He loves the fact that for once Christians need him,a Jew especially . Shylock cruelly takes advantage of his position and keeps Antonio and Bassanio in suspense waiting for his decision,he even goes as far as to pretend he has forgotten the amount they wanted, he is very devious.
Shylock is also very two-faced he tells Bassanio how much he hates Antonio I hate him for he is a Christian , but to Antonios face he is pleasant Rest you fair signior. When Shylock eventually gives in he says he will only lend Bassanio the money if when the 3 months is up the money is not repaid in full then he shall have a pound of Antonio’s flesh this is enough to kill him. This would be Shylock’s way of taking revenge on Antonio, he says to Antonio You call me misbeliever,cut throat dog,and spit upon my Jewish gabardine this seems like a rather extravagant length to go to.
Shylock is not at all sensitive to his daughters feeling like for instance when he tells Jessica she must not go out and join in the party with Christian fools he is obviously not willing to discuss this with her. When Antonio cannot repay Shylock his money Shylock becomes very unreasonable and stubborn, he is not willing to let the bond go for any amount of money that is being offered to him it is clear that he is loving having Antonios life resting on his mercy. It is clear that he is revelling in it.
He even goes so far as to start sharpening his knife if front of Antonio’s face in the courtroom, which is taking it to far! You could argue that Shylock was in fact a victim firstly because he was discriminated against because of his religion you spit on me on Wednesday last,you spurned me such a day,another time you called me dog you could say that the only reason Shylock hates all Christians is that they all hate him and they have hurt him so he has no reason to like them.
Shylock should really be commended for being such a strong believer in his religion,he will not break any of the rules he says to Bassanio he will not eat with him,drink with him nor prey with him this is because he is a Christian and Shylock follows his religion very carefully, maybe he would have liked to have dinner with Bassanio but was stopped by his religion? Regarding the bond I believe that Antonio had the choice whether or not to sign the bond he was not forced so why should Shylock let it go when they both agreed the terms? Antonio was stupid to sign it in the first place!
Also he has no friends, he is a very isolated character. His only companions are Jessica ,who eventually leaves him and Tubal who we get the impression does not like him very much anyway. You could argue that the reason Shylock is careful with his money and it seems to be one of the most important things in his life is because that is what he does for a living if he lost his money he would lose his job/land and have to leave Venice,which would also affect Jessica in the long run, so maybe that is why he mentioned the money first when he was told Jessica had run away with his money.
In his defence he does seem genuinely concerned when he asks anxiously after her later in the play. Shylock is just the same as everyone else he is simply following his chosen religion and should be respected for that not hated. I agree that he is unfairly treated. All he wants is to have the right to believe what he thinks is right and not be hated for his beliefs he wants people to treat him equally I am a Jew. Hath not Jews eyes? Hath not a Jew hands ,organs, dimensions, senses,affections,passions?
At the end of the play when Portia turns the courtroom scene against Shylock by saying That by direct or indirect attempts,he seek the life of any citizen the party ‘gainst the which he doth contrive shall seize one half his goods,the other half comes to the privy coffer of the state. Shylock not only has to give up half his money/goods to Antonio and half to his enemy Lorenzo, when he dies, but in the BBC production was forced to wear a cross, the symbol of a religion he does not believe in and become a Christian as well.
Shylock has lost his daughter and his estate he may as well have been executed because he has nothing left which he cares about. This seems really unfair as Antonio agreed to all the terms of the bond, and then he got to keep Shylock’s 3000 ducats plus half his estate! I could not really draw a conclusion as to whether Shylock I thought is a victim or a villain due to the fact that Shylock’s temperament changes constantly throughout the play.
Although after watching the BBC production I began thinking that Shylock was a victim rather than a villain this was partially because of seeing the courtroom scene where he was forced to wear a cross, a symbol of a religion he does not believe in I thought it was extremely unfair that he was forced to become a Christian,he had already lost his daughter and his livelihood.
I think that they shouldnt have taken Shylocks religion away from him because he was only trying to get what he was owed the money or the mutually agreed alternative, a pound of Antonios flesh. I believe that the bad side of Shylock is shown mostly because he is trying to defend himself and against such an anti-semetic society also I believe he is trying to protect his daughter,even when it seems like he does not care about her.