Victim or Villain
Throughout the play, Shylock is portrayed as many things, both victim and villain, therefore making him an extremely ambiguous character. On one hand, he is a very villainous character as shown when he declares that he wishes his daughter was ‘…dead at my food, and the jewels in her ear. ’ This quote clearly shows his desire for wealth rather than love or family. On the other hand, Shylock is shown to be a victim when he claims that ‘Suff’rance is the badge of my tribe’ overtly showing that he accepts his place at the bottom of the social hierarchy.
Because of this, despite all of the angles from which he could be viewed as a villain, I strongly believe that he is a victim. He is further illustrated as a villain when he is cursing Antonio behind his back with his speech beginning ‘I hate him for he is a Christian’ when he is claiming that Antonio, because he lends out money freely or ’gratis’, is bringing down the rate that he can charge interest at, thus reducing the profits that he can make.
He also believes that, whether right or wrong, Antonio lends out money this way not as in a sense of loyalty or friendship but rather in a way to improve his public image by showing off his wealth but also that he is a very modest and unassuming man. Furthermore, in this internal monologue Shylock also indicates that he is also a firm believer in prejudges, not so different from those of the Christians when he proclaims to the audience that ‘I hate him for he is a Christian’ which explicitly implies that he would act just as the Christians do I he was in their position.
Obviously, the main passage of play where Shylock is portrayed as a villain is when the bond is first agreed, especially the point when he first suggests that, ‘for a merry sport’, he will forfeit a ‘pound of his fair flesh’ if he does not pay back the three thousand ducats at ‘such a time and such a place’. Despite the fact that this may be seen as sarcasm, or perhaps a ‘spur of the moment’ proclamation, the fact that Shylock later goes and seals this forfeit in a contract.
Of course, this one moment of villainy will come back to haunt Shylock throughout the play, eventually resulting in his forced change in faith, converting from Judaism to Christian. Another interesting moment of Shylock’s clear villainy caused by the creation of this bond is uncovered during the trial scene when Shylock is offered the original sum many times increased but would rather have his worthless pound of flesh, showing yet again how villainous he is.
During the scene from which the above quote is taken, Shylock is further portrayed as a villain when he takes a moment to patronise Antonio by abusing his momentary power by say ‘Hath a dog money? Is it possible a cur can lend 3,000 ducats? ’ Despite the fact that one may say that he is justified as Antonio and Bassanio have in fact called him those exact words; by coming to him to borrow money they are coming to him in a business related manner which should mean that all past experiences are momentarily put behind them so that they can discuss business without prejudice seeping into negotiations.
Whilst one might argue that Shylock would rarely if ever be in apposition of absolute power, abusing that power would make him even more hated within the Christian community. Furthermore, Shylock has the ability to make money from this loan and insulting potential business clients is hardly a good way to start a transaction involving large sums of money. Shylock is also shown to be a villain for the majority of the court case, especially when he says ‘My deeds upon my head!
I crave the law, the penalty and forfeit of my bond’ which shows just how cold hearted he is and how obsessed he is with the acquisition of his pound of flesh, almost like a child at Christmas, pestering his or her parents for their presents. As I have outlined before, this yet again shows how much he would rather have a worthless pound of human flesh instead of 6,000 ducats, a small fortune at the time.
As a final point for the ‘villain’ argument, I am using Jessica’s line of ‘Our house is hell’ which she says to Lancelot just before eloping with Lorenzo. This line just shows how horrible it is to live under the watchful, controlling even abusive eye of Shylock, even for his daughter. Although we are not told this, it can be expected that he was equally controlling through Jessica’s earlier life, resulting in her not having many friends or social interactions with people her own age which would cause her to be difficult and demanding.
Because of this there is an implication that Shylock would have been much harsher than a normal parent would. However, in reference to my second paragraph, one could say that it is perfectly reasonable that he may hate Christians, as the Christians hate him and it is a common moral that you should treat others as one should expect to be treated, thus justifying his hatred. Later in the play, Shylock also makes his ‘To bait fish withal’ speech which reflects his need to be able to treat others as he is treated.
In addition to this, in his ‘I hate him for he is a Christian’ he goes on to say that Antonio, by lending out money ‘gratis’, brings down his interest rate which is very true, and does destroy Shylock’s ability to make large sums of money at a time. So therefore, in reality, this monologue does not show him as a villain but more as a victim as he simply believes in his own human rights to treat others as he would like to be treated.
Furthermore, when Shylock decides on the forfeit of the pound of flesh he isn’t being as unethical as one might immediately think as his lifelong abuse at the hands on Antonio and other Christians in make his life almost not worth living and therefore one could view it as a simple eye for an eye punishment to end Antonio’s profitable and enjoyable life.
Moreover, many Jews would likely have been murdered in 16th century Venice at the hands of Christians simply because of their faith with little or no justice given so yet again this action could be seen as less of a cruel man with murderous intent but more as an action that attempts to right the many wrongs dealt to his people during that era throughout Europe. On the grounds of this it is much easier to see this action as one of a victim rather than that of a villain.
To advance my argument I must now review Shylock’s abuse of power, as mentioned in the fourth paragraph. To me, this is perfectly justified as, to be frank, a dog doesn’t have money and a cur can’t lend 3,000 ducats and as Antonio and Bassanio have treated him as both of these, it is perfectly reasonable that he should find it frustrating that he is only approachable in a human way when the Christians have something to gain from the interaction ahead of them.
I also think that Shylock’s power abuse, whilst some may consider it self-righteous or sanctimonious; I believe that it was actually the right thing to do in the circumstance as Antonio and Bassanio have humiliated him all his adult life and it might not be such a bad thing if they had a ‘taste of their own medicine’ or so to speak. Additionally, with Shylock’s outburst that he would rather have his daughter ‘dead at my foot, and the jewels in her ear’ than just to return alive.
Whilst one could say that this is a very cold hearted thing to say about your own daughter, she has left him with all of his money, all of his precious possessions like rings and suchlike and made him the laughing stock of Venice. As if to add insult to injury, the man that she has eloped with is a Christian, the very people that Shylock despises the most. This Christian in particular is also friends with the very two men, Bassanio and Antonio who are making his life a misery at this very moment and throughout Shylock’s adult life.
I also think that Shylock could have said something like this with such fury as a spur of the moment thing, and doesn’t actually mean it. However, even if Shylock did mean this, I don’t think that it would be as much of a horrific act as it could be interpreted as because his daughter, the only person in the world that he truly loves has left him, almost like a castaway escaping from a desert island and leaving a life-long companion behind.
In addition to this, his daughter’s elopement also caused hi great embarrassment within both Jewish and Christian societies And finally, in response to my fifth paragraph, I see her statement that her house is hell as completely unreasonable as Shylock has spent his entire life balancing his life between being abused on the streets and being abused and hated at home by his daughter despite the fact that all of his actions made towards here will have been, however controlling they may have been, to protect here from the abuse that he receives.
So, in conclusion, I believe that Shylock is more of a victim than a villain. In my opinion, Shylock was fully justified in making all of the decisions that may at first seem like villainous if one simply delves a bit deeper into Shylock’s past and all of the abuse and hardships that he has received. This is further illustrated by Al Pacino’s portrayal of Shylock at the end of the court case when his one bit of ‘good fortune’ is stripped away from him and he is forced to give up everything, both in terms of possessions and the way he lives his life. 1,710 words total.