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Shylock: The Villain And Victim

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 866 words Published: 1st May 2017

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In “The Merchant of Venice”, Shakespeare portrays Shylock as a paradoxical character since he is a selfish, heartless, and money-grubbing stereotypical Jew of the time who experiences persecution by the Venetian citizens. Although Shylock is represented as a cruel and unusual monster there is reasoning to his malice due to the circumstances he’s been dealt with by living in an anti-Semitism community. The passage, “I have possessed your grace of what I purpose,” (IV.i.35-62) is a crucial excerpt from the play to elaborate on Shylock’s clear disregard for the compassion and mercy of others. In addition the passage fuels the audience’s perception to believe that Shylock is an unreasonable and malicious character, but as the audience knows from Shylock’s explanation in “He hath disgraced me and hindered me half a million,” (III.i.50-65) there is indeed a method to his madness.

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The passage, “I have possessed your grace of what I purpose,” (IV.i. 35-62) is a critical part in the play because it gives depth to Shylock’s villainous and irrational characteristics. In Act IV, scene i, Shylock is requested by the Duke to show his enemy, Antonio, some compassion and mercy, but Shylock refuses to do so. Shylock explains to the Duke that he doesn’t have a concrete explanation why he will not show Antonio mercy, but he does know that his resentment towards him is too powerful to let him go generously. Shylock’s villainous and irrational characteristics are immediately displayed in the beginning of the passage when he says, “You’ll ask me why I rather choose to have/ A weight of carrion flesh than to receive/ Three thousand ducats. I’ll not answer that, /But say it is my humour. Is it answered?” (IV.i.40-43). Shylock discretely insults Antonio by referring to his flesh one of a “carrion flesh” that of a dead animal – infected and worthless, but he would rather have his flesh than the three thousand ducats. He cannot make a clear argument of why he won’t choose to ducats over the flesh except that he resents Antonio – a resentment embedded in him naturally. Shylock parallels his hate for Antonio by comparing it to how some people dislike certain things but can’t explain why they oppose them such as cats, certain music, or pigs. He says, “For affection, /Master of passion, sways it to the mood,” (IV.i.50-51) meaning Antonio impacts Shylock’s moods unexplainably on a negative note, yet Shylock is just going to “sway” to that feeling out of impulse. There is a lot of ambiguity to Shylock’s reasoning in the passage, which only fuels the audience’s perception of Shylock as a heartless villainous character. Instead of taking a deeper look into why he detests Antonio, Shylock simply goes on a whim with his emotions and is careless about it.

The language that Shylock uses throughout the passage is very simple, dull, and ordinary. Unlike the other characters in the play that use their words eloquently, beautifully, and poetically, Shylock’s use of language is very straight-forward and to the point without depth. For instance he uses such phrases as, “urine”, “gaping pig”, and “bagpipe”, which all don’t exactly paint the prettiest picture for the reader. Also, he is also repetitive with the phrases, “gaping pig” and “woolen bagpipe”, which shows that his character isn’t very welcoming at all. His unwelcoming characteristics only leave a bad taste in the audience’s mouth that at this point see him as a character without any regard for anyone’s well-being, but himself. The passage is structured as if Shylock’s argument was executed thoughtfully in a verse set-up, but his approach in reality is actually full of uncertainty and impulse. After analyzing and reading the passage the reader comes to grasp that Shylock is acting simply on emotions, which is a feeling of hate that he has for Antonio. And that hatred is the only defense he has to justify why he demands a pound of flesh, which is simply irrational and villainous. All in all Shylock is painted as an erratic and thoughtless Jew in the passage, which only encourages the reader’s perception of Shylock as being unsympathetic and malicious villain.

On the other hand in the passage “He hath disgraced me and hindered me half a million,” (III.i.50-65) the reader has the rare opportunity to be sympathetic towards Shylock seeing that he’s been a victim of persecution by the Venetian citizens. In this passage the reader discovers that Shylock is not a natural born monster, instead he is a creation of circumstances. Shylock starts off by making a point that the Jews and Christians are very similar and not that different after all. He says, “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,” (III.i.54-58


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