Is Shylock A Villain Or A Victim

Would you say Shylock is a victim or a villain?

Expert Answers
robertwilliam eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As your question suggest, he's both.

He's disgracefully treated by the Christians: they mock his religion, refuse to trade with him, spit on him in the street, and - even in the trial scene - mock him and taunt him to his face. Throughout the play he's referred to as "Jew" rather than "Shylock", and you can see why he longs to "feed fat" his grudge against the Christians.

He is devastated when his daughter leaves him, without any warning, and without any evidence of negative behaviour towards her from him (she says "this house is hell", though the scene doesn't make it clear exactly why she feels like that). Shylock is, I think Shakespeare makes it very clear, a victim.

He is also a villain. He deliberately opts for the "pound of flesh" because he has a grudge against Antonio, and, when the chance comes to get his revenge, he behaves in an extremely undignified and certainly unmerciful way. He gloats in front of Antonio, even attending the gaoler who arrest him, and openly proclaims his right to the flesh, against any sense of common humanity, in a public court. He also values his money extremely highly - not negative in itself - but, when he seems to value his ducats more than his daugther, you have to be suspicious. He's undoubtedly also a villain.

You can make a case either way. For me, I'd argue that he's both at once: though like the Wittgenstein duck/rabbit, at any one moment he seems one or the other.

thanatassa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The two are not mutually exclusive. Just because someone is a victim does not make the person morally good. Villains can be victims too.

What makes Shylock an interesting character is that he has a complex nature. In certain ways, he is a stereotypical evil Jew of the literature of Shakespeare's period, racism and antisemitism being far more acceptable then than now. On the other hand, he is loyal to his religion and has been badly mistreated by Christians. His desire for revenge may seem vindictive, but it responds to a lifetime of being treated as almost subhuman. He is also a widower who greatly prizes the ring given him by his dead wife, Leah. Thus not only is he discriminated against by Christians but he has also suffered a personal tragedy and been left to raise his daughter as a single father.

His relationship with is daughter is fraught. She wants to be part of wealthy gentile society and appears quite materialistic. Although Shylock appears a harsh disciplinarian, one can sympathize with him as a single father trying to make sure his daughter does not end up being courted simply for her money.

While he is obsessed with money, his wealth is his only security and defense in a world that despises and mistreats Jews. He is not a pleasant person and is vindictive and obsessed with money, but his character is very much formed by his situation as a victim.

vikas1802 | Student

i think that shylock is well justified character in the play because how the christian behaved against him that was not good part .so what shylock had done in the play is very fine deed because if we take it personally  -we should think if a man spit on you,hit you making fun of youbetween the people and call you like a dog so defenatlly you will try to take revenge fom him.

julia1998 | Student

i dont think shylock was a villain. he just had a bad temper and took it out on other people. i think he was treated un fairly because of his religion.

hcking | Student

I am currently studying the merchant of venice for my GCSE's in ireland and the title of our essay is IS SHYLOCK A VICTIM OR A VILLIAN SO IF YOU HAVE ANY POINTS THAT I COULD INCLUDE PLEASE LEAVE THEM HERE

ashelytribiani | Student

shylock  was a villain as well as he treated antonio in ahorrible manner by cutting a pound of his flesh .