How should we see Shylock in William Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice? In what way is he a patriarch?

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thanatassa's profile pic

thanatassa | College Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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Because William Shakespeare's play "The Merchant of Venice" is a drama, and therefore lacks a narrator, we don't have explicit signposts concerning how we should see the character Shylock. Because anti-Semitism  was prevalent in Shakespeare's time, we can presume that the original audience would have not been favourably disposed to him, and his request for a pound of flesh is hardly an endearing characteristic. Modern audiences see him somewhat more sympathetically than the original audiences because we understand that victims of discrimination, like victims of abuse, often are reacting to a cycle of negativity.

Shylock does act like a typically authoritative patriarch with respect to Portia. One can argue that his assertion of patriarchy over Portia and his use of money to control debtors is a form of compensation for disempowerment in the general political and social realms.


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muddy-mettled's profile pic

muddy-mettled | (Level 1) Valedictorian

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Antonio has been pegged a puzzle at the center of the play(see Epstein's THE FRIENDLY SHAKESPEARE).  Much the same can be  said of Shylock.  The play begins with discussion of Antonio's mysterious sadness.  In the next scene is talk of Portia's weariness.  Whether Shylock also is sad and weary is then an issue.  One then might begin to notice correspondencies to other Shakespeare plays.  Simply looking at my dictionary, Shylock may be the eldest character in the play("Out upon it, old carrion, rebels it at these years?" and  "Antonio and old Shylock , both stand forth"), and therefore patriarchal.  One might also compare Shylock and Egeus from A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM and Capulet from ROMEO AND JULIET.