How might Shylock be the victim of "The Merchant of Venice"?

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robertwilliam eNotes educator| Certified Educator

... you have rated me
About my moneys, and my usances:
Still have I borne it with a patient shrug,
For sufferance is the badge of all our tribe:
You call me,—misbeliever, cut-throat dog,
And spet upon my Jewish gaberdine,
And all for use of that which is mine own.

This, coupled up with the famous "Hath not a Jew eyes?" speech, is the usual justification for Shylock's status as a victim in the play. Antonio has berated ("rated") him in public about his business, called him names, and even spat upon him. Yet he is still prepared to lend him money (though, of course, he does admit to feeling vengeful).

Shylock is a human and a sympathetic character. And, putting aside his own monstrous behaviour, the Christians treat him badly. Moreover, the ending for Shylock is extremely striking. Forced to give up his wealth to his daughter and to become a Christian, he hardly says a thing:

PORTIA:
Art thou contented, Jew? what dost thou say?

SHYLOCK:
I am content.

PORTIA:
Clerk, draw a deed of gift.

SHYLOCK:
I pray you give me leave to go from hence:
I am not well; send the deed after me,
And I will sign it.

And then he exits, never to reappear. Though Shylock's insisting on having his bond fulfilled is harsh, but there's something extremely unfair and unpleasant about the unforgiving, unmerciful way the Christians extract their revenge in such a self-satisfied way. I'd argue that, even if not elsewhere, at the end of Act 4, he's a victim.

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The Merchant of Venice

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