The Charater Of Shylock In Shakespeare’s The Merchant Of Venice

1676 words - 7 pages

The Charater of Shylock in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice

In his chapter “Shakespeare and Dissident Reading,” Alan Sinfield argues that viewing Shylock as anything but an evil villain is “achieved only by leaning, tendentiously, on the text” (Sinfield 1994, 6). This is an oversimplification of Shylock’s character as portrayed in The Merchant of Venice. Sinfield portrays Shylock as static and unchanging. However, emotions and portrayal of Shylock are not as forward as Sinfield claims. Constantly evolving, Shylock goes from being described as a human, with emotional pitfalls and grief, to being angry and vindictive, and portrayed as an animal. Shylock’s emotional changes inflate and ...view middle of the document...

Antonio’s business of loaning money without interest is hence an insult to Jews as a whole, Shylock’s “ sacred nation.” This religious assertion is repeated several times throughout this particular scene, especially when Shylock alludes to stories of the Old Testament to justify his use of interest. This strong intertwining of religion and money emphasizes the importance Shylock places on both and helps define his outspoken and passionate character that is seen through the course of the play.

Another, more striking emotion seen in Shylock is shock and grief. When his daughter, Jessica, leaves him to marry Lorenzo (a Christian), Shylock shows longing for both the loss of his daughter and his material possessions (‘ducats’). Salanio’s speech in Act II recalls Shylock’s reaction to the news hand he seems surprised at the response “ I never heard a passion so confused, so strange, outrageous and so variable” (II.8.12-13) His recantation of Shylock’s speech shows a confused and upset father indeed. Shylock repeats the words ‘ducats’ and daughter’ multiple times, in an attempt to sort out what exactly has just transpired “ My daughter! O my ducats! O my daughter! Fled with a Christian! O my Christian ducats! Justice! The law! My ducats and my daughter!” (II.8.15-17). Here we see Shylock confused, angry, and upset about the disappearance of so much of his life. He is so flustered that he cannot form a complete thought regarding what has happened, and seems indecisive about what to do. Shylock also hints at possibly the two most important items stolen by Jessica, the “two stones - two rich and precious stones” (II.8.20), whose value is more sentimental and important than anything else. Shylock later divulges why his lost stones meant so much to him – they were given to him by his deceased wife, Leah, and are his only remaining reminders of her. He attaches more value to this one ring than all of his other material possessions: “ I would have not given it for a wilderness of monkeys” (III.2.113-14). Shylock’s great attachment to tone ring emphasizes a sentimental aspect not revealed of him previously. This powerful (and solitary) mention of his dead wife is followed by another jumbled speech filled with repetitive words: “ Go, Tubal, and meet me at our synagogue, go good Tubal, at our synagogue, Tubal” (III.2.119-120). Like before, Shylock jumbles over what he is trying to say, and shows confusion and uncertainty that seems to be taking over his life. This portion of the play also elicits emotion and sympathy from the reader for Shylock because of his sudden and profound losses.

This emotion is quickly opposed by the scenes of Shylock in the courtroom with Portia, Antonio, and Bassanio. Here is the scene where Sinfield must have derived his evil villain argument – Shylock is ruthless in getting what he wants “I crave the law, the penalty and forfeit of my bond” (IV.1.204-5), the pound of Antonio’s flesh that was promised if the bond was...

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