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The Merchant of Venice: Is Shylock Villain or Victim?

  • Date Submitted: 01/28/2010 09:28 AM
  • Flesch-Kincaid Score: 73.6 
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The Merchant of Venice was written in 1598 by William Shakespeare. The story is set in Elizabethan times, which was the sixteenth century. People back then were quite prejudiced towards any race that was not Christian. They would have hated Jews. When Shylock would come onto the stage, the audience would have just booed him back off. The Christians had their reasons for hating the Jews. The fact that they supposedly killed “Jesus” still angers many people today. Christians were resentful of their wealth. Jews were very successful with their businesses. You could say that the Christians were experiencing Xenophobia, fear of foreigners. They feared that they would take over their land. So when Shylock comes to act, all these negative thoughts are buzzing through the audiences’ minds. Shylock is victimised in this play, as all Jews were back in the sixteenth century. They would live in enclosed and segregated areas called ghettos.

This play is a comedy, meaning that no one dies, and that the “good guys” always win and that Justice is done to the “bad guys.” Like all comedies there is a villain. You could describe a villain as: nasty, a law breaker, someone who kills people, greedy and vengeful, evil and he/she usually gets caught in the end and is punished. This is what I would say a typical villain is, although it is very stereotypical. Shylock is evil and vengeful, but he does not step outside the law. When he is ready to dice up Antonio, he is “allowed” to do this due to the bond he made.

The audience knows that Shylock is a Jew, but they do not know his qualities, what he is like as an actual human. So far, the audience have just typecast him as another Jew. The modern audience would not care what race he is, or what name he calls God. Anyway, believe it or not, Shylock does have good qualities. He is an industrious man meaning he works hard for his money. He is an extremely devout Jew. He can say any quote from the Jewish Bible....


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