Shylock is one of Shakespeare’s most complex characters due to the dual-nature of his personality. in ‘The Merchant of Venice’ Shakespeare explores the tension between christians and Jews and the issues of anti-semitism. Shylock is a victim of racial abuse,such as being spat on by Christians. However, at certain stages throughout the play, the audience witness equally horrific behavior towards Antonio, especially when Shylock tries to take Antonio’s life. My initial impression of Shylock is one that he constantly pities himself.
Shylock also comes across as arrogant and enjoys other people’s misfortune. “Three thousand ducats well.. ” Shakespeare uses the technic of repetition to create a sarcastic tone with Shylock. the audience could also interpret the use of repetition as Shylock being smug and enjoying the fact Antonio, a Christian, has come to Shylock, a Jew, for help. Shylock refuses to socialize with Antonio and Bassanio “I will not with you”. Shylock also takes offense when Bassanio politely invites Shylock to dine with them, “Yes to smell pork”. Shylock seems to twist invitation into a racist taunt.
This shows that Shylock is quick to feel that he is being victimized because of his Jewish beliefs. Personally when Shylock says “I hate him for he is Christian; But more for that in low simplicity, He lends money out gratis”, I feel that Shylock uses religion almost as an excuse to hate Antonio when Shylock’s main reason is simply that Antonio takes all of Shylock’s business because he generously give money out gratis therefore Shylock is not making as much money as he would like. This shows that Shylock is very greedy and that his main priority lies with competing with Antonio for business.
When Shylock refers to the Bible story of Jacob and Laban, this suggests that he is well taught in the Jewish faith and has a really good understanding of the Old Testament. Also Shylock makes a lot of his choices based on the Bible and the teachings of the Jewish Faith. The Bible story is important in terms of the practice of usury as Jacob benefited from charging interest, exactly like Shylock. Antonio response to this was “The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose”. This shows that Antonio has no respect for Shylock or the Jewish faith.
It also shows that Antonio is quick to offend or take a swipe at Shylock for practicing the Jewish faith. Also could this show that Antonio regards himself as superior towards Shylock and any other Jews. A modern audience may be uncomfortable and disgusted by Antonio’s attitude. The past injuries that Antonio has inflicted upon Shylock consist of Shylock being spat on repeatedly,being called “misbeliever” and “cut throat dog”. Calling a Jewish person a “cut throat dog” was highly offensive as Jews see dogs as hideous unhygienic creatures.
I felt a tinge of sympathy towards Shylock and found it quite uncomfortable when Shylock was listing his injuries from Antonio. Although i felt sympathy for Shylock, an Elizabethan audience would not feel the same as in that period of time Jews were seen as second class citizen and were looked upon as inferior to Christians. Also the mass murder or “extermination” of millions of Jews at the hands of Hitler contributes to making me feel sympathetic towards Shylock. Shylock can be seen manipulating Antonio into the bond by putting forward the idea of the pound of flesh as the forfeit across in a joking manner.
Antonio accepts because he believes that Shylock is only having a laugh, “a merry bond”. Also Antonio is confident he will not have to forfeit as he reassures Bassanio “Why fear not, man I will not forfeit it,” Antonio believes that he will pay off Shylock by the end of the second month as his ships will return with “thrice three times the value of this bond. ” A modern audience would share the same view as Bassanio’s because the audience know that Shylock earlier vowed to “catch Antonio on the hip. ” Also they would see through Shylock’s act and see what his true intentions are.
Antonio tells Bassanio “The Hebrew will turn Christian; he grows kind. ” This is ironic because at the end of the play Shylock is forced to stop practicing the Jewish faith and convert to the Christian way of life. When the audience discover that converting to Christianity is Shylock’s punishment they will think back to the beginning of the play. When Antonio says “The Hebrew will turn Christian” his manner is almost mocking Shylock, even though Shylock is lending Antonio money he still will not show respect for Shylock or his Jewish beliefs.
Jessica ran away with Lorenzo because Shylock treated her as his personal slave instead of a daughter. “Do as I bid you, shut the doors after you. ” shows that Shylock has little respect for Jessica and treats her exactly like a servant. You can tell this because Shylock says “Do as I bid you” Fathers don’t tend to talk to their daughters like that. The words “as I bid” show that Shylock is superior in the household. Jessica also wants to elope with Lorenzo as she is in love with him and because he is a Christian her father, Shylock would never approve of them together.
The audience is told about Shylock’s reaction by Solario because if they seen Shylock more upset at the loss of his money rather than the loss of his daughter the audience would be disgusted. Also the fact that Solario has said it could give Shylock the benefit of the doubt as Solario may have been over exaggerating to make Shylock look like a villain. Also if an Elizabethan audience seen Shylock distraught they would find it hilarious. Whereas an audience of today would find it uncomfortable to watch a Jew in distress.
Salarino tries to illustrate the differences between Shylock and Jessica by saying “There is more difference between thy flesh and hers, that jet and ivory, more between your bloods than there is between red wine and rhenish. ” This line is effective because Salarino take complete contrasts and compares them to one another. Shylock is represented as jet,black which tends to be associated with the devil and is seen as evil. While Jessica is represented as ivory, white which is seen as the colour of purity and innocence.
By Salarino saying that Shylock and Jessica have as much in common as jet and ivory he is basically saying they are total opposites and have nothing in common at all. Also Christians in Shakespeare’s era referred to Jews as the devil, seeing them as evil, which the colour black represents. While Christians looked upon themselves as pure and innocent, so by Salarino comparing Jessica to ivory he is saying that she is more of a Christian than a Jew. Shylocks makes reference to all the past injuries Antonio has caused him again as a response to Salanio’s question “Why, I am sure if forfeit thou wilt not take his flesh.
What’s that good for? ” Shylock’s response to the question was “To bait fish withal: if it will feed nothing else, it will feed my revenge. He hath disgraced and hindered me half a million. ” Shylock is saying that the pond of flesh is effectively worthless “To bait fish withal” and is only what Shylock believes he deserves after constant verbal and physical abuse at which he received from Antonio. Shylock also tried to justify his answer by saying “If a Jew wrong a Christian what is his humility? Revenge.
This shows that Shylock is taking taking the pound of Antonio’s flesh as revenge for tormenting Shylock about his beliefs. The effect of using so many rhetorical questions is to make the audience realize that Shylock and Antonio are both human. Also Shylock has very long sentences which could be seen as Shylock being emotional and opening up. Shylock’s mood fluctuates when Tubal enters because Tubal brings news of Antonio’s ships being sunk at sea. Before Tubal entered Shylock is pitying himself because Jessica has runaway with a Christian and also stole Shylock’s ducats.
An Elizabethan audience would find Shylock’s mood swing from distraught to delirious almost repulsive as a ‘Jew’ is mocking someone’s misfortune. At the start of the scene Shylock is being very melodramatic stating that him losing a part of his fortune is the worst thing to ever happen to a Jew, “The curse never fell upon our nation until now. ” When Shylock says the lines “I would my daughter were dead at my foot, and the jewels in her ear. ” and “I’ll plague him. I’ll torture him. ” an Elizabethan audience would definitely be disgusted by what Shylock wants and plans to do to Antonio.
Although a modern may still feel disgusted they may try to understand why Shylock has reacted in such a disgusting manner. However they feelings of a modern audience would change dramatically when Shylock implies that the ring Jessica had sold for a monkey had in fact been her mothers and was Shylocks only memoir of her. “It was my turquoise. I had it of Leah. I would not have given it for a wilderness of monkeys. ” The relationship between Antonio and Shylock has changed from Act 1, Scene 3 because Shylock is now more powerful than Antonio.
This is shown when Shylock says “Jailer look to him. in this scene Shylock has had Antonio arrested because Antonio has failed to payShylock the three thousand ducats which Antonio was confident would be paid off before the three months were up. On stage the audience would see the physical change between Shylock and Antonio, because it would show Antonio in handcuffs/shackles due to Shylock. Shylock also says “I will not hear thee speak” this is a command which a master may give to someone who is subordinate to him. This also shows role reversal has taken place because in Act 1 Scene 3 Shylock was inferior to Antonio.
Also Shylock twists Antonio’s insults “since I am a dog, beware my fangs” this quote could be interpreted into three different things. Firstly Shylock mocking Antonio because he is powerless. It could also be interpreted as a threat towards Antonio because Shylock has the power to ‘bite’ Antonio due to the bond. Finally the “fangs” could symbolically represent the knife in which Shylock will cut the pound of flesh from Antonio. A modern audience’s response to Shylock may change throughout the trial scene whereas the response of an Elizabethan audience would most likely to stay the same.
The modern audience may feel sorry for Shylock in Act Four Scene One because he is outnumbered. Also the Duke criticizes Shylock “I am sorry for thee. Thou art come to answer … an inhuman wretch. ” The Duke Of Venice, who should be impartial, is clearly biased towards Antonio in court. Here the audience can see that Shylock is clearly ‘outnumbered’ in court by Christians and our sympathies may lie with Shylock. However when Bassanio notices Shylock sharpening his knife Bassanio asks Shylock “Why dost thou whet the knife so earnestly? This shows that Shylock has set his thoughts on killing Antonio by getting the pound of flesh, and has no plans on changing them.
The word ‘earnestly’ shows that Shylock is eager to make Antonio pay his part of the bond. Both modern and Elizabethan audiences would be disgusted with Shylocks actions and may see him as a villain. If Shylock had shown mercy towards Antonio when Portia said “The quality of mercy is not straind, it droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven. ” the audience may respect Shylock more as mercy is an attribute to “God Himself”, but Shylock simply throws his opportunity away.
Instead of being merciful Shylock plans to go ahead with the bond and take the pound of flesh from Antonio. This makes the audience even more disgusted by Shylocks actions. Because Shylock believes that Portia is on his side Shylock begins to flatter Portia by saying “A Daniel come to judgement. Yeah a Daniel! O wise young judge how I do honour thee. ” Shylock flatters Portia by comparing her to “Daniel”. Daniel was a well respected Jewish lawyer and a very fair judge. By flattering Portia Shylock is trying to get Portia to agree with him and have his pound of flesh.
To an audience they may feel repulsed as they are seeing how desperate Shylock is for his revenge on Antonio. At the end of the trial scene it becomes clear the the Laws of Venice are biased to protect christians and prosecute Jews. “If it be prov’d against an alien” This shows that Jews aren’t seen as equal citizens or as human beings at all in Venice and possible all over the world during that period of time, instead they are seen as outcasts. A modern audience may feel some pity towards Shylock as he is being victimized due to him being in a minority.
Also the audience may see Shylock as a victim when Antonio announces that Shylock “presently become a Christian”. At the end of the trial scene Shylock has lost all of his possessions and says “I am content. ” Each word may possibly symbolize each of Shylocks losses. ‘I’ is the shortest word, which could mean the loss of his daughter has had the least effect on Shylock. The loss of Shylock’s wealth may be represented by ‘am’ and finally ‘content’ may possible show how much the loss of the Jewish faith has destroyed Shylock inside and all of his passion has been squashed and is a mere shadow of his former self.
Personally I believe that Shylock was a victim throughout “The Merchant Of Venice” because I believe that if I was put through years of racial abuse and discrimination from Antonio I would be desperate for revenge and make him feel small and powerless. Shylock was exactly in the same state of mind and I believe Shylock only wanted to give Antonio a taste of his own medicine. The events of World War II may have influenced me to feel more sympathy for Shylock and be disgusted by the way he was treated but I still personally believe that Shylock was the victim of Antonio’s torment.