In the above passage, you can see many traits that lead you to develop a more complex interpretation of Shylock and develop your understanding of him and his role in the play. In particular, you can see that Shylock is an alien character, who is also alienated from the other characters in the play, resentful and can be seen in two different ways.
A good example of Shylock’s alien character would just be in his general pattern of speech and language he uses. Many times during the extract he uses the word ‘monies’, which is a Jewish stereotype, and no other character uses it. Shakespeare uses this in order to establish Shylock as an alien character who is very much alone in the play and very different to the rest of the characters. Shylock also speaks in a different way to the other characters. When he is discussing the borrowing of his money with Antonio, he often thinks aloud, unlike any other character.
Three thousand ducats, ’tis a good round sum.
Three months from twelve, then let me see, the rate –
In this section, you can see Shylock is thinking aloud when talking to Antonio. This may partly be an attempt to patronise Antonio but it still makes him stand out as an alien character.
Shylock’s character can also be seen as resentful, particularly of the Christian community in Venice. When bargaining with Antonio you can see he is particularly patronising towards Antonio on several occasions. Shakespeare does this in order to establish a relationship of resentment towards the two characters where Antonio, the Christian hates the evil Jew, a view that would be shared by a large proportion of the audience at the time, and where Shylock is the Jew, angry at being isolated and discriminated against during his time in Venice. Shylock notably refers to Antonio as ‘signor’ in order to belittle him, elevating his own status in the negotiations. I found this amusing as Antonio is not a character I took to, like many others, it is a good chance for Shylock to become a character that the audience could like.
Shylock’s resentment for Antonio and Christians in general becomes evident during his large speech when he is in negotiations and Antonio asks whether ‘we be holding you.’ Here we see Shylock being immensely sarcastic, aggressively bitter towards Christian civilisation and sympathetic with the Jewish community and what it has had to bear.
You that did void your rheum upon my beard,
And foot me as you spurn a stranger cur
Over your threshold: monies is your suit.
Here you can see Shylocks resentment in its full glory. He uses very bold and grotesque imagery when describing the ‘void upon his rheum’ and an audience at any time would find this sickening, giving you a sense of sympathy for him, but being held back by the idea he has insulted Christians and hates them. This phrase has also got onomatopoeic characteristics as when you say it aloud it almost sounds as if you are spitting.
You can see Shylocks portrayal of the Jews is gentle and innocent as apposed to his portrayal of the prejudicial Christians.
Still I have borne it with a patient shrug
For suff’rance is the badge of all our tribe.
This soft tone evoked by this language is used in order to convey the image of a peaceful Jewish community, making them seem more innocent and, when juxtaposed with Shylock’s description of the Christian community, creates stark contrast. Shylock is also mono-syballic in his speech to add strength when saying how Christians are prejudicial towards him yet do it ‘all for use of that which is mine own.’ My opinion of Shylock was affected by this speech greatly as I felt it highlighted his personal struggle against adversity and I felt genuinely sympathetic to his cause. The strong imagery particularly held my attention and gave me the empathy to understand his resentful attitude toward Christians.
In the above extract, you can also see that Shylock can be portrayed in two main ways, both very different to each other. The first being the sixteenth century stereotype Jew; mean, crafty, evil and resentful. This being because of the anti-Semitic nature of the time, where Jews were blamed for the death of Christ and so were much discriminated against. The other portrayal of Shylock is a modern and liberal take on his character and emerged long after the play was written in more free-thinking society. This is also now the most common take on his character, as there is certain reluctance to play him as bloodthirsty and aggressive after the holocaust. This portrayal of Shylock plays him as a man who has been wronged against very much and is doing what he must to survive. He is merely resentful as a result of years of torture and discontent and should be a character sympathised with.
Express’d in the condition, let the forfeit
Be nominated for an equal pound
Of your fair flesh, to be cut off and taken
In what part of your body pleaseth me.
Here is a passage that can be interpreted in both ways. Playing Shylock as an evil character, you could interpret that he is asking for the pound of flesh as he wants to hurt Antonio as he is hates him. The other way could be that he is merely doing it as a joke as he has the up most faith in Antonio returning the money, even though he resents him for his anti-Semitic attitude.
My personal opinion is that Shakespeare has created Shylock as a mixture of both these style of character. I think his character is one that should evoke sympathy and has been discriminated against unfairly and lives a life much troubled as a result. However, at the time this was written I feel Shakespeare would have wanted Shylock to have that evil edge to his personality as he too would have the primitive stereotype engrained in his value system. Perhaps that is why he was such an interesting character as Shakespeare wanted to challenge his audience to feel slightly sympathetic towards him, even though he is Jewish, and besides, no one person can be completely good, we are all evil at times, especially hard ones.
Whatever opinion or portrayal is evoked by Shylock, you can learn many things about him in this passage as he throws in hints of all his characteristics and personal features. Not all of these are clear and his overall purpose in the play has never been set in stone. It is clear that he is how you read him, and how you react to this scene will probably influence that decision.