“‘Shylock is a villain as a result of the way he has been treated.’ Discuss”
The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare depicts a Jewish money-lender, Shylock, as the antagonist and villain of the play. Shylock, being a Jewish man, is victimized throughout the play as a greedy, deceitful individual due to his Jewish heritage. Mistreatment towards Jews was common, especially in Venice as it was an anti-semitic city. Anti-semitism is the opposition to the power and influence of Jewish minorities. They were disliked for having rejected Christ, and accused of therefore not having good morals so they were thought of as depraved and dangerous. The Jewish people, on the other hand, saw themselves as victims of persecution that was unjustified and unfair, and they saw their anger and resentment against non-Jews as understandable and even as necessary for their survival. Shylock is therefore both a villain and a victim. He became a villain as a result of having been unfairly victimized. Shylock redirected the hatred inflicted on him back at his enemies. This essay shall examine the mistreatment of Shylock because of his Jewish heritage. It shall then explore the plays depicture of the cycle of hatred occurring between Christians and Jews focusing Shylock in particular and how thus reveals Shylock to be both a villain and victim.
Shylock is being unfairly victimized due to his Jewish heritage. Jewish people were thought of as greedy, deceitful individuals who had not good morals, for having rejected Christ, and were depraved and dangerous. In Venice, Jews were forced to wear red hats to signify that they were of that race. This enabled Christians to differentiate between Jews and non-Jews and therefore enabled them to unfairly treat the Jews out on the streets. The mistreatment of Jews throughout the play included being spat upon and being called cruel names. Shylock, being part of the Jewish minority, was therefore mistreated by the Christian community. He was spat upon and being called cruel, nasty names by his Christian neighbours. ‘You call me misbeliever, cut-throat dog, and spit upon my Jewish gabardine’ (Act I Scene I) describes the unfair mistreatment Shylock and his other Jewish companions have to undertake everyday in Venice. The unfair treatment towards Shylock due to his Jewish heritage triggers the need to act revenge thus resulting in Shylock being depicted as a villain.
Furthermore, Shylock, being unfairly victimized because he was a Jew, redirects the hatred inflicted on him back at his enemies. The play depicts of a cycle of hatred occurring between Christians and Jews. At the beginning of the play, Antonio treats Shylock in a cruel manner, spitting and calling Shylock a ‘misbeliever, cut-throat dog’. Shylock, after years and years of being unfairly mistreated, uses the hatred the Christians had inflicted on him back to them. ‘I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? Fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poisonus, do we not die? And if you wrong us shall we not revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that. If a Jew wrong a Christian, what is his humility? Revenge. If a Christian wrong a Jew, what should his sufferance be by Christian example? Why, revenge. The villany you teach me, I will execute, and it shall go hard but I will better the instruction.’ (Act III Scene I) is Shylock’s renowned ‘Hath not a Jew eyes’ speech. Shylock states that Jews are human beings like Christians. The actions of a Christian should be applied to Jews as well, as both races are human beings. He uses the example of if a Jew harms a Christian, the Christian will act revenge but why can’t a Jew act revenge if a Christian harms a Jew. Shylock is simply applying the insults and abuse by his Christian neighbours as reason for his alleged cruel actions. He is a hated figure and so he deals hatred himself. Prejudice has hardened him when doing business with people. As a result of the way he was treated, he strikes cruel bargains with people when money-lending. This ruthlessness is his weakness and causes enough people to strike against him. As a result of his failure in court, his possessions and Jewish heritage was stripped away from him as he left the court a broken man. As a result of the way he was treated, he applies the abuse by his Christian neighbours in the past and uses the hatred back towards his enemies thus resulting in Shylock being depicted as a villain.
Shylock is victimized throughout the play and is portrayed as a greedy, deceitful individual due to his Jewish heritage. As a result of the way he has been mistreated and victimized, he redirects the hatred that is inflicted towards him back on his enemies, and as a result of that, the play depicts him as a cruel, merciless villain. The play depicts how people who have been sinned against can become ruthless in the treatment of others. Thus, Shylock is both a villain and a victim and is a villain as a result of the way he has been unfairly treated.