In literature, the victim is the most complex character. Victims often become depressed, but sometimes they overreact and lash out in rage. It takes a special character to withstand a bombardment of abuse. In my opinion, in the Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare creates a victim of mistreatment and discrimination, named Shylock but still manages to keep his human emotions.
Firstly, Shylock is the victim of society’s persecution on several counts. In addition, the mistreatment of others can become addictive for many abusers. Throughout the book, it seems like everyone wants to be a part of the mistreatment of Shylock. Antonio and many other merchants frequently criticize and belittle Shylock and his business, with Antonio “rails even there where merchants most do congregate on me, my bargains, and my well-won thrift”.
By calling Shylock “a devil Jew” and “he is a very Jew” further shows the insults from a society that Shylock has to endure on many occasions. Furthermore, they insult his culture and religion, pushing him to the extent of Shylock proclaiming that “sufferance is the badge of our tribe”. This general negative perception of Shylock seriously damages his business and reputation.
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Words are one thing, but the physical abuse is much more powerful. In a heated argument, Shylock even exclaims to Antonio and Bassanio, “You that did void your rheum upon my beard, And foot me as you spurn a stranger cur” (1.3.109-110). Shylock is clearly disturbed by society’s outward signs of hatred and disrespect. Fear is powerful, and Shylock has to live with the fear of physical abuse every day. This shows the fu Shylock’s mistreatment does not come only from his enemies.
Jessica, Shylock’s daughter, stabs Shylock in the back. Shylock trusts Jessica with the house. She repays him by running away with Lorenzo and taking Shylocks money with her. This betrayal leaves Shylock with no one left to lean on. The backlash brought on by Shylock’s mistreatment is nothing compared to what Shylock receives. Shylock is a victim of unprovoked and vicious mistreatment from many different places.
Finally, Shylock is not a villain in the way as he does show care, compassion and feelings that are not commonly depicted by a villain. However, he is a victim in the way that his compassion and care are not reciprocated and even taken advantage of. Thus this showing that he is not always a villain as portrayed in most cases. When you see the occasions in which he is usually portrayed as a villain in a different light, you would see he understands that it is important to maintain emotions and feelings. Shylock never becomes heartless or cold.
Though Shylock has many things on his mind, but still found time to be a father to Jessica. If he was a bad father, would he care to tell Jessica to avoid the wild parties when he knows how dangerous and immoral they can be. Thus, Shylock showed his love for his daughter by trying his best to protect Jessica from what he saw as an immediate threat. In addition to his appreciation and love, Shylock extends his grief and distress.
In an impassioned speech, Shylock cries out for acceptance, “If you prick us, do we not bleed,” (3.1.50-51). This cry out for tolerance is met with ignorance and further hate. Shylock knows he is a victim and is doing his best to deal with that harsh reality. Shylock is a victim that still cares for the people around him. He cannot be purely evil because he shows human emotions like everyone else, thus he cannot be a villain completely.
However, it is a fact that he may be a villain in some areas of the book as he is both devious and vengeful. When discussing the forfeiture of the bond, Shylock says “let the forfeiture be nominated for an equal pound of your fair flesh, to be cut off and taken in what part of the body pleaseth me.” Shylock suggests the forfeiture of the bond playfully, whereas it is actually a cunning plan to murder Antonio with the law on his side.
In addition, when Salerio asks Shylock what good would Antonio’s flesh do Shylock if Antonio forfeits the bond, he replies, “If it will feed nothing else, it will feed my revenge. He hath disgraced me, laughed at my losses, mocked at my gains, scorned my nation,” The quote clearly portrays Shylock remembering every single thing that Antonio has done to him. He calculates what Antonio has done to him and tries to revenge the wrongs done to him by murdering Antonio, through these means show his vengeful and devious attitude commonly associated with that of a villain.
However, in a nutshell, Shylock is a deep and interesting character that can be analysed in many ways. On the surface, he appears to be a bad person that does evil to everyone. There is a reason why he reacts the way he does. Shylock is mistreated and discriminated against in a variety of ways. He never stops being a human worthy of respect and dignity. Occasionally he reacts negatively, but he is basically a product of his environment hence a tragic victim.
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