In what light do you see Shylock as a tragic character or a comic figure in The Merchant of Venice?

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sagetrieb's profile pic

sagetrieb | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator

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To Shakespeare's audience, Shylock would have been laughable as well as despicable.  In many ways he conformed to the stereotype of Jews current during that time, and I do not doubt they would have laughed when his daughter left him, laughed when he said "my ducats, my daughter," and perhaps laughed, too, when he was forced to convert to Christianity at the end of the trial. Enotes has some historical background on this issue that would be worth checking out.

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Jamie Wheeler | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

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There is definitely a tragic element in the character of Shylock.  The rampant anti-semitism of the age provoked lines like "hath a Jew not eyes...If you prick us do we not bleed?" (3.1.59-70) but for me, Shylock revokes my sympathies when his daughter elopes and steals his money.  He rants, claiming that he wishes his daughter was "dead at my foot / Jewels in her ears! / Would she were hears'd at / My foot and my ducats in her coffin!"  (3.1.88-90).  In my opinion, this sort of outburst reinforces the stereotype of Jews as greedy and murderous.

As for comic element, sometimes Shylock is laughable in his efforts to keep his money and his daughter in check, but overall I see him as a tragic figure beset by the climate of his time and his overall personality shortcomings. 

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