The Merchant of Venice was written in 1599 by William Shakespeare, The impact of contemporary Elizabethan was clearly shown in the play, although it is set in Venice. The play shows a character of great qualities but with a side of evil, which is one of the many reasons the play is so great. The character is called Shylock and I will be basing my coursework around him.
You could say that Shylock was almost created by the very negative attitude towards Jewish people in the 16th century, it's as if Shakespeare has produced the perfect stereotype of a Jew in the Elizabethan worlds eyes. At this time Elizabeth I was the Queen of England, the whole country had just settled from civil war over religion and were at enemies with Spain. The Jews were almost a worldwide punch bag, they were being blamed for many different things and were being tortured and killed because of this. They were thought of as foreigners even if they had been born in that particular country.
The Jewish people have descended from nomadic tribes in the Middle East. In the 13th Century BC. they establish towns and villages in the present-day area of Israel. Jewish kingdoms and states were situated around Jerusalem, the site of the temple. Judaism, the religion that evolves in this period, demands ethical behaviour, individual responsibility, tolerance and social justice. Jews believe in a single god, prohibit human sacrifice and practice communal worship. Many of the teachings of Judaism enter into Christianity and Islam and influence other religions and cultures.
Judaism does not encourage conversions but has always accepted converts from other religions. The killing of millions of Jews and other "non-Aryans" in the Holocaust is the greatest crime against humanity recorded in history. It was made possible by a unique combination of factors: the total control over the machinery of a modern state by the totalitarian regime of the National Socialists; the active cooperation or passive consent of a large part of the German population; the collaboration of like-minded regimes and people in the occupied territories; and a deeply rooted anti-Semitism common to all Christian countries in Europe. The catastrophic loss of humane standards in German society took place after the prolonged political and economic crisis of the 1920s. These facts show that Jews have been mistreated in such a inhumanly manner that its hard to believe.
Throughout my essay I will be talking about whether Shylock is a victim or a villain in "The Merchant of Venice". Shylock plays a key role in this play, as a Jewish money lender and good business man, At first he comes across as a very intelligent man in Act 1 scene 3, where we meet him for the first time. He is to lend Antonio 3000 ducats for Bassanio, to be repaid after three months by Antonio.
Shylock then presents the bond as a joke, by offering Antonio a contract where by if he doesn't receive all 3000 ducats after the 3 months then he will be own a pound of Antonio's flesh, later on in the play he use's this contract for revenge. This is because Antonio is a Christian and dislikes Shylock because of his religion. Antonio treats Shylock in an unacceptable way. We know this because in Act 1 scene 3 shylock states...
"Fair sir, you spat on me on
Wednesday last, you spurn'd
Me such a day, another time
You call'd me a dog: and for
These courtesies I'll lend you
Thus much monies."
Antonio's reply to this comment is that he'll do it all again because at the end of the day Shylock is still a Jew.
"I am as like to call thee so again,
To spit thee again, to spurn thee too."
This shows Shylock being treated unfairly and the victim more so than the villain. How ever as the audience we are unaware of Shylock as a person, his personality. He may be a very disliked person not just because he's a Jew. We are later shown that he may not be the nicest person in the play, because his daughter leaves home and elopes with her lover Lorenzo, who is a Christian; this can understandably make Shylock distressed and to make it worse she runs away with a lot of Shylock's money. In Act 4 scene 1 Shylock and Antonio are in court, because Antonio has been unable to repay the 3000 ducats in the three months.
Shylock's chance to get his revenge is given to him. Portia, Bassanio's new wife has dressed up as a man and plays the part of a stand in lawyer for the original Dr. Bellario. Bassanio offers Shylock nine times the amount given to Antonio, Shylock refuses the money and is set on his revenge. This shows Shylocks dark side and what type of person he really is. Someone who goes about his or her life seeking revenge on others can't be a nice person. However Shakespeare may have been portraying Shylock as this "evil" character because in order to make the play popular he needs to show the Jews, as the people who the Elizabethan public see and believe they are.
By doing this he may be exaggerating how evil Shylock really is, to make himself popular. Portia later in court cleverly states that in the contract there is no blood mentioned and she says that if he spills one his life will be taken by the Venetian court. He then realises that he is unable to win this battle and admits defeat. However it doesn't stop there, Shylock is told that because he has threatened a Venetian citizen's life, and as a foreigner he will lose everything that he owns and give half to the Venetian court and the other half to the citizen who was threatened.
This sounds very unfair towards Shylock and to be called a foreigner in his own country is out of order. You could say he brought it on himself by continuing taking his pound of flesh. Shylock is then forced by Antonio to give half him probity and to become a Christian. This breaks Shylock and he can't accept this, as he is a proud man and proud of his religion. This is not very fair towards Shylock and as a human it's hard to understand why someone would do this to another human being.
My conclusion to this essay is, I think personally that Shylock is very mistreated in the play, and so is a victim in my eyes. The reason I am saying this is because after reading "The Merchant of Venice" I believe Shylock was a character created by Shakespeare to show the audience how the Jews were being treated. However Shakespeare I think has cleverly created a play where it shows the audience what he thinks about the racist situation, but also shows the audience what they want to see.
In Act 1 scene 3 we see Shylock involved in the talks between himself and Antonio, for the loan of the money. Shylock has been treated like an "animal", sometimes even worse. This is some motivation for Schlock's revenge in my eyes, and I think most people would want to get revenge on someone who has publicly humiliated them by spiting in public at them! I think most would want to get some revenge, even though revenge is against the Christian religion, it doesn't stop Christians wanting it.