In the Merchant of Venice, do you consider Shylock to be a villain or a victim?
One area that I need to look at before I discuss this question is whether Shakespeare himself was anti-Semitic or that he was influenced when writing The Merchant of Venice by the attitudes of Christians to Jewish people at the time. At the time that Shakespeare was writing Britain was a Christian based society with very few ethnic minorities including one or two Asians and very few Jews, so Shakespeare may not have totally understood what Jewish people were. Shakespeare will most certainly not have known all the Jewish laws, including the laws that forbid harming other people or oneself. Since there were very few Jewish people in Britain at the time then people didn’t understand them and so feared them. So at this time there was a popular notion of the Jewish people as an inferior race, who were money grabbers and a threat to nationalism.
As I have already said Britain was a Christian based society and many were fairly devout and religious Christians, which meant that they read the Bible. This leads me to assume that many of them will have believed that Judus, one of Jesus’s disciples who was Jewish betrayed Jesus to the Romans. So these Christians blame Jews for the killing of their Lord Jesus. As a result of this many Christians also believed that the Jewish people were a race who used Christian blood for ritual purposes, crucified Christian children and ate their flesh all because the Christians didn’t understand Jewish customs and thought them strange and alien and so feared and then hated them.
[...] Here is yet another motive for Shylock wanting to harm Antonio. Also by doing it in a bond, Shylock can legally get away with killing Antonio as taking a pound of flesh from below Antonio’s heart would kill Antonio. Thus removing Shylock’s enemy. Going back to Antonio’s racist abuse of Shylock. In scene 1 when we first see Antonio, he is not presented as racist so why is he now? In a way it seems just like an excuse of Shylock’s to harm Antonio and avoiding the real truth which is that Shylock wants his business rival out of the way. [...]
[...] This is probably in terms of is Shylock a villain or not the most important scene in the play. Bassanio offers Shylock thrice the original amount instead of the bond. Shylock is driven by money, and so to refuse this offer finally shows that he was never interested in money. This whole plan was for revenge and it was planned as he is still following it through. Shylock replies that he cannot take the money as “tis my humor to do it” in a very evil way he is saying that it is his right to do it. [...]
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