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Shylock Character Analysis
Transcript of Shylock Character Analysis
By Lucas Geremia
The Merchant of Venice
Shylock is a central character in Shakespeare's
The Merchant of Venice
. He plays an important role in the development of other characters and has a unique personality. In certain aspects of the play, he serves as a quintessential antagonist; however, Shylock is a character that illuminates certain racial inequalities in Elizabethan England.
Shylock serves as the principle antagonist in
The Merchant of Venice.
He seeks to extract revenge on Antonio (a protagonist). In the climax of the play (the court scene), Shylock argues to "cut the forfeiture from that bankrout" (IV, Scene 1, Line 122). He is the only force opposing Antonio, who is portrayed as the victim of the villainous Jew's hatred. Shylock also opposes Portia and Bassanio, other protagonists, who are trying to save Antonio.
Shylock was integral in influencing other characters in the play. The boxes below describe two specific examples.
Shylock and Theme
Shylock embodies the stereotypical Jewish man. He is a miserly and woefully dim. When his daughter elopes with Lorenzo, he goes through the streets crying "My daughter! O my ducats!" (II, Scene 8, Line15), as he cannot decide which is more important to him. Additionally, Shylock orders that his house doors be locked so as to "not let the sound of shallow fopp'ry enter my [his] sober house" (II, Scene 5, Lines 35-36). Thus, Shylock is an exceedingly grumpy and negative individual. However, Shylock's most important personality traits manifest themselves in his hatred for Antonio. He hates Antonio "for he is a Christian" (I, Scene 3, Line 41). Their relationship is presented to the reader as extremely negative. While Antonio is portrayed positively, Shylock is portrayed as the villain who actively persecutes Antonio. Shylock's unyielding hatred and refusal to show mercy for Antonio when the bond is broken displays his malicious behavior. However, Shylock's personality is largely a result of the duress he is under as a result of racism.
Shylock's personal vendetta against Antonio results because of the racism Shylock faces in the play. Thus, Shylock has specific reasons why he hates Antonio and "would have his bond" over "six thousand ducats" (IV, Scene 1, Lines 85, 87). Antonio and the other Catholic merchants of Venice consistently treat him as if he was sub-human. Moreover, even when Antonio goes to Shylock for a bond, Shylock offers to "be friends with you and have your love" (I, Scene 3, Line 138). Of course, this offer is rejected. Shylock's personal feelings about the behavior of his aggressors, particularly Antonio, are expressed throughout the play: "Hath a dog money? Is it possible a cur can lend six thousand ducats?" (I, Scene 3, Lines 120-121) and "Hath not a Jew eyes?" (III, Scene 1, Line 59). Shylock is hurt by their constant insults and tries to legitimize his humanity. Because Antonio and his friends reject him, Shylock hates them. His behavior toward Antonio is the manifestation of his anger, which he expresses in Act III, Scene 1, Lines 70-71: "The villainy you teach me I will execute".
Influence on Portia
Shylock indirectly influenced Portia's behavior in court. By continually saying things such as "Is it so nominated in the bond?" (IV, Scene 1, Line 258), Shylock helps Portia craft her argument against him, forcing him to take "nothing but the penalty" (IV, Scene 1, 321). This exchange is integral to the play's plot and is chiefly influenced by Shylock's insatiable desire for revenge against Antonio.
Influence on Jessica
Shylock directly influenced Jessica, his daughter. He drives his daughter into the arms of Lorenzo because of his miserly and ill-tempered personality. Jessica's eloping is a testament to the negative aspects of Shylock's personality. She cannot wait to abandon him, saying "if my fortunes be not crossed, I have a father, you a daughter, lost" (II, Scene 5, Lines 55-56). Because Jessica leaves Shylock for Lorenzo, Shylock's hate for Antonio and his companions only grows.
Shylock and Conflict
Shylock is one of the drivers of conflict in the play, as he gives rise to the court scene. His struggle with Antonio is central to
The Merchant of Venice
. Shylock seeks to exact revenge on Antonio for wronging him; he is attempting to get justice for the racism he suffers. To Shylock, Antonio likely represented the body of merchants who persecuted him. Nonetheless, this does not justify Shylock's behavior or his attempt on Antonio's life. Ultimately, Shylock receives "justice more than thou [he] desir'st" (IV, Scene 1, Line 315).
Shylock's Change Throughout the Play
Shylock's changes throughout the play are emotional changes rather than growth. Shylock begins the play with contempt for Antonio, which only grows as time progresses. However, he grows euphoric when he hears of Anotnio's misfortunes: "I am very glad of it. I'll plague him; I'll torture him" (III, Scene 1, Lines 116-117). His euphoria grows to a height when Portia feigns agreement with him in terms of the bond. However, his happiness is quickly abated when Portia turns on him saying "One drop of Christian blood, thy lands and goods are by the laws of Venice confiscate" (IV, Scene 1, Line 310). Shylock does not grow as a person during the play; rather, he changes emotionally depending on his leverage over Antonio and his companions.
Shakespeare expresses that a person's race does not matter; rather, he shows that a person's character is far more important. Shylock exhibits stereotypical Jewish traits in a satirical fashion. He is the quintessential miserly and Catholic-hating Jew. Shakespeare even depicts him as crying for his ducats over lamenting the loss of his daughter and as saying things such as "I did dream of money bags tonight" (II, Scene 5, Line 17). However, Shylock's irascible temperament is far more important in judging him than his being Jewish. Jessica, Shylock’s daughter, does not exhibit the same behavior that Shylock exhibits in the play. Though Jessica is Jewish, Lorenzo, a Catholic, proposes to marry her. Lorenzo realizes that all Jews are not the same, as he describes Jessica as “wise, fair, and true” (II, Scene 6, Line 56), even though he despises her father. Despite the fact that Jessica is Jewish, the audience can sympathize with her because she is a personable character; however, Shylock is far harder to sympathize with because he is a malicious individual. His refusal to show mercy to Antonio saying "On what compulsion must I [show mercy]? Tell me that" (IV, Scene 1, Line 182) is a far more apt means of judging his character than his Jewish nationality. By exaggerating Shylock's Jewish characteristics and presenting him as having an awful personality, Shakespeare seeks to craft a satire of Elizabethan society and to prove that race has no bearing on a person's character.