William Shakespeare

To what extent do you either sympathise with or loathe Shylock in Act 3 Scene 1 and Act 4 Scene 1 of The Merchant of Venice?



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To What extent do you sympathise with shylock?

The position of Jews in Shakespeare's day was not very highly thought of; they were classed as the lowest of the low, they were spat on, they were treated like dirt. Jews were not allowed to live in Britain at the time so they moved to other countries all over the world such as Venice. In many of these other countries they were all put into secluded areas of the towns and cities called Ghettos. The Ghettos originate from Venice which is the setting of Shakespeare's play 'The Merchant of Venice'. Only Jews were allowed to live in these areas and although they were allowed out of the Ghettos at any time, it was their only home and they had to live there. Whenever they did go out of the Ghettos they had to wear a red cap which symbolised their Jewish religion.

Jews were restricted by law as to the jobs they could do. They were not allowed to own or rent land. One job they could do was to lend money and charge interest on it, and since they could not own land, they could accumulate a lot of cash. Christians sneered at Jews for charging interest, since they did not have to make their living that way.

Anti-Semitism was a big issue for the Jewish people; they were always thrown about and not looked after by Christian people, it was not fair for them to be treated badly. Historically, after more and more Romans started becoming Christian, it became politically incorrect to blame the Romans for killing Jesus (even though it was the Romans who did it) so the Christians blamed the Jews instead. In Venice the Christians were top of the hierarchy whereas the Jews were not as important so they were at the very bottom and were not even citizens and were called aliens.

Shylock in this play was treated terribly badly by the Christian people; he is treated as if he was the man who killed Jesus himself, people aimed all hateful comments at him and spat on him. The Venetian merchant Antonio and his friends take a dim view of Shylock, the Jewish usurer, and his practice of charging interest on loans. For his "un-Christian" behaviour he was called a dog Jew by passers-by and strangers he had never even met before on the street, he was victimised by all Christian people and once again like all other Jews he was forced to live in a dirty Ghetto. Throughout the play he's referred to as "Jew" rather than "Shylock" and you can see why he wants to grudge against the Christians. He is distraught when his daughter leaves him without any warning, and without any evidence of harmful behaviour towards her from him. She says "this house is hell", though it is not clear to Shylock why she feels like that. Shakespeare makes it very clear that shylock is a victim of the Christians and they hate him. "But say it is my humour", this line shows the amount of Shylock's cruelty as he has no proper reason for demanding the pound of flesh. Shylock says, "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, heal'd by the same means." This part of Shylock's speech and also the rest of this same speech shows to the Christians that everyone is the same and should be treated the same and entirely equal. This portrayal of Shylock as being merciless would fit in with the Christian audience's negative view of Jews and would therefore add their feelings of dislike towards Shylock's character.

Shylock got moreover fed up of the Christians hating the Jews, so he decided to make a bond with Antonio in order to get revenge on him. The bond had a slight catch to it, that if Antonio did not repay the loan of money on time then he would have to give Shylock a pound of his own flesh from nearest his heart, which meant that he would be killed. This shows Shylock's villainous side. He deliberately asks for a "pound of flesh" because he has a dislike against Antonio because he is a Christian, and, when the chance comes to get his revenge, he behaves in an extremely undignified and undoubtedly harsh manor. He gloats in front of Antonio, even attending the guards who arrested him, and openly announces his right to the flesh, against any sense of common humankind, in a public court. He also values his money extremely highly; when he seems to value his ducats more than his daughter, you have to be suspicious. Shylock is greedy, vengeful and cruel. Towards the beginning of the play, when Bassanio asks to borrow the money, it is hard to find any "positive features" of Shylock for many statements he makes it seems he is just an opinionated, prejudiced and selfish man. Shylock is cruel as he hates Antonio for the plain reason he is a Christian. This, in the modern day world is seen as racism, and it is, but no less so than the racism of those that hate Shylock for being a Jew. In Shylock's speech he says that Antonio "hates our sacred nation" which help give the audiences make their own opinions on which man should be disliked; Shylock hates Antonio for being Christian whereas Antonio hates Shylock for being Jewish. Antonio then goes on to say, "I am as like to call thee so again, To spit on thee again, to spurn thee too!" showing no regret of calling Shylock names, spitting on him or kicking him even whilst still asking to borrow money off him. It is these attitudes from Antonio that may make the audience feel for Shylock.

Shylock's relationship with Jessica was very distant; when Shylock's wife died they were both distraught but Jessica was not at upset as Shylock. She had found the love of her life who she wanted to be with. Shylock was very angry at this thought because this man she had fallen in love with was a Christian called Lorenzo and Jessica was going to turn Christian in order to marry him. However Jessica fell keenly in love with Lorenzo, and she was very determined and eager to be with him. It was as if she was trying to prove something to her father. Maybe she just wanted to rub in the fact that he did not like Christians. Maybe she hoped he would start to like Christians himself. Jessica has a very enthusiastic and opinionated character and she is very determined so if she wants something she will strive until she gains what she wants. You can also find Jessica to be a shy self- conscious character who cares what others think about her. Shylock is a greedy, self-obsessed man who cares a bit too much about his money and gains more than the things which matter more, like Jessica.

In "The Merchant of Venice" you will see that there are different ways of interpreting things, different sections which can mean different things. The first way which the audience can understand Jessica's character is as a victim, This is shown in the book in many ways some of which are; when it is said by Jessica 'I may be a daughter to his blood, but I am not related to his lifestyle', This quote shows how Jessica is showing how she is completely individual to her father and although she is his daughter this does not mean that she necessarily agrees with him. Later we see that Shylock is victimized by Jessica, when he finds that she stole her mother's wedding ring and traded it for a monkey. He says, "I would not have traded it for a wilderness of monkeys!" Sometimes Shylock is less materialistic than you might think.

Shylock was humiliated in the court room an awful lot because he was desperately trying to tell the judge and all of the people there that Antonio and he had made a bond which means a contract. Antonio was also ready for the consequences by dealing with shylock in the first place but going to the court room was a chance he was willing to take. Shylock did not know the full consequences of the bond though, he felt the law should let him cut the pound of flesh, weigh it and then leave to go home, leaving Antonio to die. The judge (who was really Portia pretending to be a lawyer) said "take then your bond, take then your pound of flesh, but in the cutting of it, if you do shed one drop of Christian blood, your lands and goods are by the laws of Venice confiscated" meaning that if he was to shed one single drop of Antonio's blood when cutting the pound of flesh then as a upright punishment all of his goods would be confiscated. Next Portia had told Shylock this: "if the scale do turn within the estimation of a hair, then you will die" because he was only entitled to one pound. At this point Shylock is prepared to go home and say goodbye to his loan, which would be punishment enough. But the Christians now show their cruel side. They take half of Shylock's wealth, force him to will the rest of it to Lorenzo, whom he despises, and force him to adopt a religion he despises and abandon the one he cares about. They show no mercy to him.

To conclude, I sympathise with shylock in many ways because he is constantly referred to as "the Jew" throughout the play except when the Duke calls him by name once. This shows how Jews were not treated as equals by the Christians and allows some reason for Shylock's plans to get revenge. Shylock is revealed as a hard-hearted, stubborn and merciless man in the play as he refuses to show Antonio any mercy and lessen his demands even though offers from Bassanio to pay twice as many ducats as he was originally owed. Shylock still refuses to take the money instead of the pound of flesh. Contrary to the stereotypical view of Jews as miserly and money grubbing, the refusal of the money in place of the flesh emphasises Shylock's strong desire for revenge on Antonio.