In Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice the antagonist of the play is Shylock. Shylock is a wealthy Jewish moneylender. Shylock is probably the most memorable character in the play because of Shakespeare’s excellent characterization of him. Shylock is the antagonist in the play because he stands in the way of love, but this does not necessarily make him the villain of the play. Shylock can be seen as both the villain of the play and as a man who is very human. The villain that we see in Shylock is the greedy moneylender.
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Shylock charges high interest rates and when he is not repaid he insists on revenge. In the play Shylock loans Antonio money, and out of jest he suggests that should the loan not be repaid in time Shylock may cut off one pound of flesh from Antonio’s body. Soon after Shylock’s daughter runs away from home with Lorenzo, a Christian, and takes her father’s ducats with her. When Antonio’s ships do not come in and he is not able to repay the loan Shylock is no longer interested in getting his money back. Shylock wants revenge for the loss of his daughter through the fulfillment of the bond. In court Shylock is defeated because of his selfishness.
Shakespeare also shows the human qualities of Shylock throughout the play. Shakespeare brings out these human qualities by causing us to feel sympathy for him. After the loss of his daughter Shylock ran through the streets crying “My daughter! O my ducats! O my daughter!” as children followed him, mocking him. This causes us to feel sympathy for Shylock, even though we may feel him to be a villain. Besides the loss of his daughter and his ducats, after the trial Shylock also loses his property and his religion. The loss of his property was certainly a blow to Shylock but it can hardly compare to his loss of his religion.
His forced conversion to Christianity brings out more sympathy for him. Shakespeare’s manipulation of our feelings for Shylock show Shakespeare’s gift as a writer. He gave Shylock the ability to make us hate him at times, and sympathize with him at others. This makes Shylock one of the most vivid characters of the play.