Is Shylock a Villain or a Victim? (The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare Analysis)


In movies and plays, there tends to be people that have bad personalities and people that have good personalities, the villain usually tends to bully or verbally and physically abuse the victim. This applies in everything including “The Merchant of Venice by Shakespeare”. In “the Merchant of Venice”, Shylock is a victim and not the villain because humanity has a tendency to judge people based on inferior views of their religion, culture, ethnicity rather than their true characters and actions. In Shylock’s case, he is being victimized for his religion’s beliefs and not for his human qualities. Shylock is victimized through constant instances of racism by physical and verbal abuse. He is never taken seriously as a respectable citizen of society during the play who can be trusted. He is forced to convert religions as punishment for Antonio’s hatred of the religion and not due to the actions of Shylock.

One of the ways that Shylock is a victim is due to him being victimized through constant instances of racism by physical and verbal abuse. Shylock is consistently victimized and judged for being Jewish instead of his true character. Shylock says that Antonio has spat on him in the past. Later on, Shylock also says that Antonio has called him a dog. Antonio admits to saying those things and tells him that he will do those things again,  “Fair sir, you spet on me on Wednesday last:/ You call me misbeliever, cutthroat dog...You called me ‘dog/ I am as like to call thee so again, to spet on thee again, to spurn thee, too'' (1.3.120-140). In this conversation, it is shown that Shylock is being very respectful and calm even though he has every right to swear at Antonio and reject his offer. Despite his humble actions, The conversation shows that Antonio is being very ignorant and rude towards Shylock and the Jewish community which clearly shows that Shylock is the victim and is being judged due to his religion and culture but not for who Shylock truly is. He is further victimized by constantly being the most villainized and disrespected citizen in society.

Although Shylock is constantly villainized in the story, he is a victim as he is never taken seriously as a respectable citizen of society who can be trusted. This is shown in multiple occasions, “Let me say “amen” betimes, lest the devil cross my prayer, for here he comes in the likeness of a Jew” (3.1.15-25) This part of the conversation shows how nobody takes him seriously due to his beliefs. It also shows the lack of respect that Shylock receives and the judgement that he gets for being a Jew. Shylock was treated as the enemy even when he was needed “lend it not As to thy friends...But lend it rather to thine enemy” (1.3.140-145), This shows how nobody wants to be involved with him as a friend but only in business altercations. Shylock is also not taken seriously by Bassanio as he only views him as the villain, “I like not fair terms and a villain’s mind” (1.3.190-200). Every Christian does not want to be connected with Shylock as a friend and they all take him to be the enemy which is what proves that he is a victim and that he is judged by people who do not even know him. With all of this, the worst is yet to come.

The worst aggression that Shylock experiences as a victim in this story is when he receives a punishment that does not fit the crime, he is punished due to Antonio’s hate for the religion and not for his actions. Shylock and Antonio go to court and shylock is asking for the merry bond to be fulfilled. He is being fair and straight forward by asking for the agreed upon bond. He is getting charged for attempted murder due to a technicality that Portia brought up. After some negotiation, Shylock is forced to give half his assets to Antonio and the other half to his daughter upon his death, and is also forced to convert to Christianity or otherwise he will be executed and all his wealth will be confiscated, “a pound of flesh/One drop of Christian blood, thy lands and goods Are by the laws of Venice confiscate Unto the state of Venice/I am content, so he will let me have The other half in use, to render it Upon his death unto the gentleman That lately stole his daughter. Two things provided more: that for this favor He presently become a Christian;” (4.1.85-90,315-325,395-410)  Antonio’s hatred demonstrates how Shylock is a victim and not a villain because the punishment is based on Antonio’s hatred for the religion and not for Shylock’s actions.

Humanity tends to judge people based on their religion beliefs, culture, and ethnicity rather than judging them by their actions and personality. In “The Merchant of Venice”, Shylock is a victim but is quickly judged by the Christians due to his religious beliefs and not his actions. Shylock constantly goes through racism through verbal and physical abuse and does not retaliate. He is never taken seriously as a respectable citizen of society during the play who can be trusted however gives his trust to others that end up taking advantage of it. He is forced to convert religions as punishment for Antonio’s hatred of the religion and not for Shylock’s actions. This clearly shows that Shylock is shown to be a villain due to his beliefs and never actually been seen as the victim due to the judgement of humanity. Shylock is always criticized and never respected due to the lack of good judgement made by the Christians. This is what shows that Shylock is a victim.

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