William Shakespeare is often referred to as the greatest Scriptwriter ever. He truly has a skill, of creating unique characters that, create controversy, and give reasons for people to discuss and debate.
Back in the Elizabethan times, Shylock, a character, from the famous Shakespearean play, The Merchant of Venice, would have immediately been seen as a villain, for one reason, and one reason only, he is a Jew.
However, if they had viewed Shylock as a normal human being, not as a devil, they would have noticed that Shylock is not a villain, but a victim. The Christians in this play, particularly Antonio, a merchant, had abused, betrayed, and insulted Shylock.
Antonio had kicked him and called him names. Shylock was also back stabbed by his own daughter, who stole from him and ran away with a Christian. His wealth, dignity and his religion was taken away from him because he had wanted something that was rightfully his, a pound of Antonio’s flesh.
Shylock is a victim of harassment by the Christians, a victim of betrayal by his own daughter, and a victim of prejudice because he had to give up his religion due to wanting Antonio’s flesh.
In this play, The Merchant of Venice, Shylock is the victim, because he is mistreated. The Christians, mostly Antonio, mistreated Shylock, physically and verbally. Shylock says, “You call me misbeliever, cut-throat dog, and spet upon my Jewish gaberdine” (1.3.107-109).
Antonio insults Shylock verbally by calling him names, like a cutthroat dog, and by spitting on his Jewish gabardine. Other Christians were also insulting Shylock’s Jewish religion. “If e’er the Jew her father come to heaven, it will be for his gentle daughter’s sake.” (2.4.33-34). This was said by Lorenzo, who basically states that Christianity is the religion that is powerful enough to make anyone go to heaven.
Lorenzo insults Jews, saying that Shylock and his religion are not strong enough to get a soul into heaven, which is extremely disrespectful. Antonio had also physically kicked Shylock before and easily would do it again (1.3.114-115). Shylock was not much different from the rest of the Christians; he was a human being too. He was hated due to the differences in religion.
Shylock said “Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions…….. as a Christian is?” (3.1.52-53). Shylock is saying here, that even though he doesn’t believe in the same beliefs, he still is the same as Christians. People who believe that Shylock is a villain usually include the fact that he is greedy, and cares about his ducats over anything in this world.
Even though, in a scene that is usually forgotten, Shylock finds out his own daughter traded his wife’s ring for a monkey, he cares only for its emotional value. “Out upon her! Thou torturest me, Tubal: it was my turquoise; / I had it of Leah when I was a bachelor: / I would not have given it for a wilderness of monkeys” (3.1.102-104). Shylock is basically bullied in this play, physically and emotionally; Shylock is the victim of all this Christian assault.
The only member of Shylock’s family, his daughter Jessica, has betrayed him. She alone, put her own father in a deep emotional state for running away with a Christian, against her father’s will. ”My own flesh and blood to rebel!” (3.1.28). Shylock is expressing his surprise, on how his only daughter eloped with Lorenzo, leaving her Jewish religion, and converting into a Christian.
Shylock’s poor heart is broken when he hears about Jessica’s betrayal. He yells on the streets “O my daughter, Fled with a Christian!” (2.8.15-16). Jessica, not only eloped and left her religion behind her father’s back, but she also stole jewelry and ducats from her father.
She has stolen the most treasured ring to Shylock that he had gotten from his wife who had passed away. Not only did she steal her father’s most prestigious ring, but she traded it away for a monkey. For Jessica to trade away her father’s ring he got from her late mother, for something as ridiculous as a monkey, one can just think how devastated and hurt Shylock must have been, when he heard this tragic news.
When Shylock refers to Jessica as his “own flesh and blood” one can tell how upset Shylock was mentally (3.1.28). Jessica’s actions caused emotional and financial pain to Shylock through her disgusting and hurtful choices.
During the courtroom scene, it seemed Shylock was coming upon his wish, of getting his revenge on Antonio, but Portia finds a loophole in his contract. By the end of the courtroom trial, he has lost all his money and has to endure the humiliation of being forced to leave his Jewish religion and become a Christian.
And to make it worse, Shylock now knew that he would be enormously financially unstable, as all of his belongings and his ducats got confiscated away from him. Can’t get any worse right? Wrong, half of Shylock’s ducats are going to Antonio, the last man Shylock would want his money to go to. Scan you imagine how depressed and embarrassed Shylock was when he was told that he was going to be forced to leave his Jewish religion, betraying his parents, his wife, his relatives, and all of his ancestors.
This also meant that he was no longer part of the Jewish community. The Jewish religion bases itself on a very close related society. Therefore, Shylock could no longer be able to do his job as a moneylender because he was no longer connected with all the other Jews. At the end of the play, Shylock no longer had a home or anything else so he decided that he would rather die than have to live as a Christian. How can one not feel pity for Shylock in this instance?
Shylock faces much discrimination against him because he is a Jew, but he still is a human being. The Oxford English Dictionary’s definition for a victim is: harmed, injured, or killed as a result of a crime or accident, a person who is tricked or duped (deceived), or an animal or person killed as a religious sacrifice. And the definition for a villain? A person who is guilty or capable of a crime or wickedness.
It is blatantly obvious that Shylock matches the definition of the victim, much greater than the definition of a villain, because of his daughter’s betrayal and robbery, him enduring abuse and mistreatment from Antonio and the other Christians, and the fact that his dignity, belongings, and his religion were taken away from him.
Even though Shylock is portrayed as a unmerciful man, just think for a second, if you were in his shoes, wouldn’t you want revenge as well? If a man came to you asking for money, and instead of being polite, he spat on you, disrespected your religion, and compared you to a dirty dog, would you not also be vengeful? If not, it would seem you have no respect for your religion or yourself. Shylock’s story truly is tragic, and he definitely should not be called the villain of this play, but the victim instead.