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Character Analysis of Shylock from The Merchant of Venice

Shylock is the devil in the Merchant of Venice and wants revenge on the Christian, Antonio. Shylock attempts to kill Antonio because he is a Christian. Shylock is a murderer and he hated all the Christian people. “Shylock is a villain.” (258;Stoll). Stoll says that Shylock is the villain in The Merchant of Venice because he hates Christians, and he attempts to kill Antonio, by taking his heart. Shylock cares more about money than his daughter, and he attempts to kill Antonio. Shakespeare is writing for an anti-Semitic audience and he wants to make Shylock look like a devil. The audiences that lived in Venice and watched them play, at the time, were mostly Christian and they were very anti-Semitic.

The Christian people hated the Jews because they believed that the Jewish people were devils. The Christians thought the Jews were the devils because they killed Jesus Christ. “Shakespeare’s age-based their anti-Semitism on religious grounds… that the Jews murdered Christ and were therefore in league with the devil.” (1; The Nature of Anti-Semitism). Shakespeare tries to make it an anti-Semitic play to attract more attention and make more money by selling more tickets. Shakespeare himself is not Anti-Semitic he is just trying to make a living by selling his books and performing acting out his plays.

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Shylock, a Jew, is portrayed as a devil who wants revenge against a Christian. Shylock’s wants revenge due to a forfeited bond. Antonio’s friend, Bassanio, has the money to pay off the debt and even add a lot of extra money on top of what is actually owed to Shylock. Shylock refuses to take the money and wants Antonio dead. The death of Antonio by Shylock would happen because of an unpaid debt from Antonio, the Christian merchant, who Shylock dearly hates. Shylock asks Bassanio if he would free his slaves and then Shylock says no one would free their slaves because the slaves are theirs. Shylock says this so he can reaffirm his want for the flesh, he is bound to have a pound of flesh and he wants it. “The slaves are ours’. … / The pound of flesh which I demand of him / Is dearly bought: ‘tis mine, and I will have it.” (4.1;97-99). Shylock is hoping the judge will give him the chance to get his revenge and kill Antonio.

In the Merchant of Venice, Shylock was a person with devilish intentions and showed many qualities that would make one say he is the devil himself. Shylock attempted to kill Antonio even though he could have gotten his money or even two times the amount. Bassanio offers Shylock six thousand ducats instead of the three thousand ducats spoken of in the bond. “For thy three thousand ducats here is six.” (4.1;83). Bassanio says he would pay 10 times the sum of the bond. “Yea, twice the sum. If that will not suffice, / I will be bound to pay it 10 times o’er.” (4.1;207-208). Shylock does not care about Antonio “who was the kindest man that lived.” (1; Lambs Tale). Shylock wanted Antonio dead no matter what Shylock was offered. This is the quality of a devilish character.

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Shakespeare wants his book to be anti-Semitic. “The Merchant of Venice inevitably includes a discussion of the vexed question of its alleged anti-Semitism.” (1; Halis). Shakespeare made his play anti-Semitic because the times were anti-Semitic and no one really cared much about the Jews. The Jews were treated harshly and differently than the Christians. The rules for Christians were not the same as those rules for Jews. The Christians believed the Jewish people were the ones that killed Jesus Christ and that is why they were hated and treated differently. “Shakespeare’s age-based their anti-Semitism on religious grounds… that the Jews murdered Christ and were therefore in league with the devil.” ( 1; The Nature of Anti-Semitism). The Jewish people were heavily taxed and money was taken from them when the state’s money was low. If the Jewish people did not pay the money that was asked of them they would be imprisoned and then have their land confiscated. “Heavy tallages, or taxes, were imposed upon Jews-individually and collectively-to support the sovereign’s financial needs, and when money was not forthcoming, imprisonment and/or confiscation usually followed.” (3; Halis). The Jews were harassed all through their history in Venice. They were treated with utter disrespect and very few people cared whether the Jewish people lived or died.

During this time the Church also wanted the Jews out of the country. “Church vigorously opposed the existence of Jews in the country.” (3; Halis). The Jewish people were despised because they did not believe in Christ. “But as non-believers in Christ, they were despised people.” (3; Halis). Many Jews were forced to convert and some of them refused and were forced to leave the country. “Assisted by the king, to convert Jews to Christianity.” (4; Halis). Most of these things led the Jewish people to be vengeful and hateful towards Christians. The Venetians make Jews their scapegoats because the Jews are money-lenders and are excluded from many things. “Of money, because he is himself a moneylender, and of exclusion, because he is the excluded thing. Therefore the Venetian world makes him their scapegoat.” (85; Goddard).

Shylock hated Antonio because he was Christian. Shylock “declines an invitation to dinner since he will not eat with Christians.” (177; Harbage). “I hate him for he is a Christian.” (1.3;39). Shylock doesn’t only hate him because he is a Christian. Shylock, like many other Jews, was a usurer. “Although usury was one of the few means to accumulate such wealth as they had.” (3; Halis). Shylock was a moneylender. “Shylock, the Jewish money-lender” (177; Harbage). He lent people money with a high-interest rate. He hated Antonio because Antonio lent money to people without any interest. Shylock hated Antonio “because he used to lend money to people in distress, and would never take any interest for the money he lent.” (1; Lambs Tale). By doing this Antonio took away part of Shylock’s business causing him to lose money.

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Shylock also hates Antonio and Christians because they helped his daughter, Jessica, run away. She also stole precious gems and thousands of ducats from him. Shylock cared more that his money was missing then his daughter is gone. “And jewels, two stones, two rich and precious stones, / Stol’n by my daughter! Justice! Find the Girl! / She hath the stones upon her, and the ducats.” (2.8;20-23) Shylock is looking for his ducats and stones, not his daughter, he cares more about money than love. Since Shylock cares more about money than love and in this effect he becomes a devil and hates everyone that holds him back from making money or makes him lose money. “Shylock is a wise businessman, but very greedy.” (1; Merchant Of Venice).

Shylock is the devil because he cares more about money and wealth, then his own daughter. “Only the riches he has acquired – gold and precious gems – mean anything to him.” (5; Halis). “She hath the stones upon her, and the ducats.” (2.8;23). When his daughter left him he was only upset that she stole his money and his precious gems. “I would my daughter were / dead at my foot, and the jewels in her ear.” (3.1;83-84). Shylock would not care if his daughter was dead and laying in front of him as long as she still had the ducats and the jewels in her possession.

Shylock did not want to lend money to Antonio because Antonio treated Shylock poorly. “You called me dog; and for these courtesies / I’ll lend you thus much money’?” (1.3;124-125). Shylock lends Antonio the money hoping he would not repay it and Shylock would get a chance to kill him. “If you repay me not on such a day, / In such a place, such sums or sums as are / Expressed in the condition, let the forfeit / … an equal pound / Of your fair flesh to be cut off and taken / In what part of your body pleaseth me.” (1.3;143-148). Shylock hopes that Antonio can not be able to fulfil his bond so Shylock may take a pound of his flesh, heart. Shylock hates Antonio and wishes death upon him. Shylock thinks he has been wronged and wants revenge. “Teach me I will execute, and it shall go hard but I will / better the instruction.” (3.1;68-69). Shylock says he will make the punishment worse on the Christians then they did to him. Revenge is a devilish trait. This makes Shylock more into a devil because he will do worse than the Christians have done to him as revenge.

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Shylock is portrayed as the devil in the Merchant of Venice because he wants revenge on Antonio and wants to kill him. Shylock cares more about money than he does about anything else, including his daughter. He wishes to kill Antonio by binding him to a bond of 3,000 ducats and if it is not paid then a pound of flesh be given. Shylock hated Christians and hated Antonio. Shylock reveals “That he hates the merchant – as a Christian, a lender of money gratis, and a despiser of himself and his sacred nation.” (Halis;177). The devilish Shylock is forced to convert to Christianity to spare his life. “Converted to Christianity, as Shylock is forced to do.” (1; The Nature of Anti-Semitism). After Shylock is converted he becomes a better person the Devilish quality begins to disappear. “The Hebrew[Shylock] will turn Christian; he grows kind.” (1; Merchant Of Venice).

Work Cited Page

Goddard, Harold C. The Meaning Of Shakespeare. Chicago & London: The University Chicago Press, 1951.

Harbage, Alfred. William Shakespeare. Canada: Ambassador Books, Ltd., Toronto, 1968.

Shakespeare, William. King Lear Oxford Shakespeare. Ed Jay L. Halio. New York:Oxford University Press, 1998. 103-227.

Stoll, Elmer E. Shakespeare Studies. New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing CO. 1960. 255-366.

“The Nature Of Anti-Semitism: Religious vs. Racial.” (14 March 2002). URL:

“Merchant Of Venice.” (14 March 2002). URL:

“Merchant Of Venice.” (12 April 2002) Lambs Tale URL:

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Character Analysis of Shylock from The Merchant of Venice. (2021, Mar 04). Retrieved March 24, 2023, from