Is Shylock a victim, a villain, or some combination of both?

Shylock is a combination of both victim and villain in The Merchant of Venice. He is a victim of discrimination and mistreated by Antonio and his daughter, Jessica. Shylock's greedy, vengeful nature is what makes him a villain, which helps drive the plot of the play.

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Shylock is one of Shakespeare's most memorable characters and can be viewed as both a victim and a villain in the play The Merchant of Venice. As a villain, Shylock is a heartless, cruel money-lender, who is determined to take Antonio 's life. Shylock is more concerned about his...

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Shylock is one of Shakespeare's most memorable characters and can be viewed as both a victim and a villain in the play The Merchant of Venice. As a villain, Shylock is a heartless, cruel money-lender, who is determined to take Antonio's life. Shylock is more concerned about his wealth than his daughter and desperately desires to see Antonio die. Once Shylock discovers that Antonio's merchant ships are lost at sea and he cannot pay his bond, Shylock demands justice and refuses to accept six thousand ducats, which is twice the amount of the original loan. Shylock scoffs at Portia's mercy speech and is thrilled to remove a pound of flesh near Antonio's heart. As a villain, Shylock is vindictive, hostile, and selfish. Fortunately, Portia disguises herself as a young lawyer and prevents Shylock from murdering Antonio by making a persuasive argument. It's also important to note that much of Shylock's undesirable personality is based on anti-Semitic stereotypes, so that while he is a villain in the story, as a character, he is also a victim of the limited views of the time he was created.

Furthermore, despite Shylock's greed and hostility, the audience learns that his vengeance is somewhat justified. In act 1, scene 3, Shylock says that Antonio has insulted him in public, called him a "cutthroat dog," and even spit on his Jewish gabardine. In addition to verbally and physically assaulting him, Antonio has attempted to undermine Shylock's business practices. The audience learns that Antonio is just as cruel and unforgiving as Shylock and that Shylock has a right to despise Antonio. Shylock's daughter also takes advantage of him by stealing his ducats and eloping with Bassanio's close friend Lorenzo. Shylock's home is in disarray, he suffers from discrimination in Venice because he is a Jew, and Antonio has personally offended him on numerous occasions. Therefore, the audience has empathy for his character and views him as a victim. Since Shylock's character is not black and white and his situation is remarkably complex, it is best to consider him both a victim and a villain.

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In Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, Shylock is portrayed as a complex character, who is both a victim and a villain. Shylock is a victim of anti-Semitism and discriminated against because of his ethnicity. As a Jew living in sixteenth-century Venice, he is segregated from society and prohibited from working in certain sectors. Shylock is treated as an outcast and suffers from Antonio's harsh words and physical abuse. In act three, scene one, Shylock provides the audience insight into his motivation to exact his bond by telling Salarino that Antonio has disgraced him a half a million times and laughed at his misfortune. He proceeds to say that Antonio "mocked at my gains, scorned my nation, thwarted my bargains, cooled my friends, heated mine enemies" simply because he is a Jew. Shakespeare then humanizes Shylock and creates sympathy for his character. Shylock goes on to say,

"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, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that. If a Jew wrong a Christian, what is his humility?" (Shakespeare, 3.1.54-62)

In addition to being a victim of discrimination and prejudice, Shylock's daughter also betrays him by eloping with Lorenzo and giving away his precious turquoise ring, which was given to him by his wife, Leah.

Although Shylock is certainly a victim, his character primarily functions as a villain, who is necessary to drive the plot of the play. Shylock refuses to exercise mercy and demands a pound of Antonio's flesh to feed his revenge. By threatening Antonio's life, Shylock indirectly jeopardizes Bassanio and Portia's marriage. Portia must come to Antonio's defense and cleverly outwits Shylock during the dramatic courtroom scene. Shylock also acts as an obstacle in Jessica's love life, and she is forced to flee under the cover of darkness to be with Lorenzo. Shylock's cold heart, greedy nature, and vengeful personality are what make him a villain. However, Shylock's mistreatment and tragic situation are what make him a victim.

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As is typical of Shakespeare's characterization, Shylock is neither a black nor a white character, but a mix, as real people are. To some extent, he is both victim and villain.

He is a victim of the anti-semitism that runs rampant in Venice. We learn, too, that he has, in particular, been a victim of Antonio, who does not hesitate to openly insult and revile him, and has even pulled his beard and been physically rough with him. Antonio both insults Shylock for being a money-lending Jew and then comes to him expecting to get a loan. We can easily understand how Shylock would feel a deep sense of injury at the way he has been treated.

Shylock, however, fights back, perhaps too hard. He comes across as a villain when he gets the upper hand because Antonio can not pay his debt. His insistence on cutting a pound of Antonio's flesh away, almost certainly a death penalty, comes across as merciless and hard-hearted.

Yet, while we as an audience are glad we are spared such a gruesome sacrifice, Shylock is also dealt with very harshly by the court, so we again note how the general animosity towards Jews has stacked the deck against him.

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