Is Shylock a Villain or a Tragic Figure?
Shylock is a monster of cruelty, miser, greedy, suspicious, cunning, bloodthirsty, revengeful, mean, a bad father and a bad master. But it is the circumstances that made him like this. Shylock is a tragic figure, trapped by prejudice and driven to revenge by the treatment he receives He is not cruel by nature. He is human in inner-self as the Christians are. He is, therefore, the most injured man, insulted, abused and disgraced by the Christians and even by his own daughter, His cruelty is made by centuries of insult and outrage which the Christians inflicted upon the Jews race.
Shylock became hard and savage by long and cruel oppression. He suffers immensely. Shylock’s humiliation and sufferings can only be measured by someone who has experienced the alienation of a gross minority. From the very beginning of the play, Shylock is a lonely man. His wife Leah, whom he loves dearly, is dead. His daughter Jessica is not much of a help, and infect adds to his loneliness. She betrays her father by robbing him of all his money after he had bestowed upon her the trust of his house. She not only takes the money but also marries Lorenzo, a Christian boy by changing her religion.
This must have been particularly heart-breaking for the proud Jew. She later exchanges the turquoise ring of her mother for a monkey. Shylock is hated by Antonio because of his anti-Semitism. Antonio in particular spits upon him and calls him a cut-throat dog. So it is but natural that such a man begins to hate those persons who hate him. His hatred of Antonio is religious, patriotic, personal and professional. Lorenzo elopes with his daughter that makes him more revengeful. He bears insults with patience. He says “sufferance is the badge of a tribe. In his impassioned speech in Act III ,Scene I ,beginning with “To bait fish withal” he rises to the magnitude of a tragic hero, “ I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes, hath not a Jew Hands, organs, dimensions, senses , fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapon….. ” It is a noble protest against inhumanity of treatment to which the Jews as a race have been subjected through the ages. Shylock, the Jew has hatred against the Christians in general but Antonio, the merchant of Venice in particular . He has strong reasons for it.
The reason of his such revengeful attitude towords the Christians and in particular towards Antonio is Christian’s abhorrence towards him and his race which is the false belief of the Christian’s that the Jews murdered Jesus Christ and therefore in league with the devil and this the Jews were actively working to subvert the spread of Christianity . this belief was driven by the early church. In Merchant of Venice Antonio abhorred Shylock because of this inherited belief. Antonio’s treatment of Shylock is most unfriendly and insulting.
He hates the Jews in general and Shylock in particular. He has publicly condemned Shylock. He has been spitting on him at the Rialto in the past and abusing him. He has called him a misbeliever and a cut-throat dog . He has often spat upon his Jewish gabardine. He has been heaping disgrace and insult upon him. Even when he seeks for a loan from Shylock from his friend Bassanio Shylock recites the various insults and injuries he has received at Antonio’s hands Antonio haughtily replied “ I am as like to call thee so again. To spit on thee,to spurn thee too. Naturally how can Shylock forget this humiliation he has received at the hands of Antonio. He is constantly abused by others as well. Gratiano calls him “inexorable dog” in the court infront of the Duke,and goes unpunished for slander. Even Solanio and Salerio calls him a villain and a dog. And they all hate him because he is a Jew. He survives in such a hostile environment like a man absorbing their insults ,yet never losing heart , accumulating wealth in a fair manner no matter how much the Christians hate him for. Shylock is a fanatic Jew.
He is a representative of the Jewish tribe . his vengeance on Antonio springs from the ancient and cruel hate which he as a Jew bears towards the Christians. Shylock is the champion of the persecuted Jewish race. He can not forget the centuries of insult and outrage heaped upon the the Jewish race by the Christians. Shylock’s grudge is that Antonio abuses his sacred race. he feels that the Jews have been denied human rights by the Christians. He fells pained that Antonio gives loans to people without charging any interest and thus brings down the rate of interest in Venice.
Shylocks profession as a Jew money-lender suffers by Antonio’s generosity. Moreover, there is still another motive behind Shylock’s revenge against Antonio. His daughter Jessica ,runs away with a Christian boy, Lorenzo, who is a friend of Antonio. The one single trait that puts him in the category of a villain is his all-consuming passion for revenge. He is prepared to kill for it. There is something horribly monstrous when he sharpens his knife to actually carry out his barbaric job of extracting a pound of flesh from Antonio’s body.
Critics have explained his revenge to his hostile surroundings,his constant humiliation, the persecution of Jewish tribe and the betrayal of his daughter. Yet,all these put together can not explain the hideousness and cruelty involved in the act , that he is bent to carry out. However,the punishment that is meted out to him at the end of the trial scene is as barbaric as his feeling for revenge. After the trial scene he is deprived of all his wealth and ahat is worse ,is ordered to convert to Christianity if he is to save his life.
According to the modern standards,the forcible conversion was a sin,for we regard the question of salvation as a personal issue on which no extraneous authority has a right to interfere. So ,from this point of view the Christian court of Venice did injustice to this man. To have punished the Jew by confiscating his property would have been sufficient to meet the end of justice but to go out of its way to force him to change the creed of his forefathers would be an act of inhumanity which cannot be defended according to the sense of justice.
Throughout the play, Shylock’s persecution is massive and heart-rendering. We can not but feel sympathy for the man at the end of the play. But the hideous design that Shylock makes in order to take his revenge upon Antonio is not supportable at all. _____________________________________ Reference: 1)http://en. wikipedia. org/wiki/Merchant_of_venice 2)http://en. wikipedia. org/wiki/Shylock 3)http://www. britannica. com/EBchecked/topic/542457/Shylock 4)http://www. articlemyriad. com/character_analysis_shylock_merchant_venice_shakespeare. htm