Essay, Research Paper: Merchant Of Venice And Shylockes


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In the play the Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare, the character Shylockеs
portrayal changes a great deal. This manеs image goes from that of a cruel
and evil murder to a pitiful and helpless beggar of mercy. These circumstances
raise the question of what kind of man Shylock truly is, and whether or not the
reader should feel pity for him. There is no doubt that Shylock is a man with
faults, but there is evidence to suggest that his intentions though cruel and
heartless are the result of years of unjust provocation on the part of Antonio.
Shylock reveals a very dark side of himself once he has Antonio at his mercy.
Out of context, Shylockеs actions would be perceived by most people to be
savagely unmerciful. Shylock refuses twice the bond which is owed to him by
Antonio, and upon seeing his determination to have Antonioеs life, the
Duke asks him вHow shalt thou hope for mercy, rendering none?г (IV,I,
88) Shylockеs response to this is вWhat judgment shall I fear, doing
no wrong?г. (IV, I, 89) In this he is clearly saying that he believes his
actions to be completely justified. In order to make a reasonable argument on
Shylockеs behalf, a reader must see this exchange as more than the simple
collection of a debt. There is a bitter past and a history of problems between
Shylock and Antonio. Some of these problems become clear to the reader when
Shylock states to the reader: How like a fawning publican he looks! I hate him
for he is a Christian,But more for that in low simplicity He lends out money
gratis and brings down the rate of usance here with us in Venice.If I catch him
once upon the hip, I will feed the fat that ancient grudge I bear him. He hates
our sacred nation, and he rails, Even there where merchants most do congregate,
on me, my bargains, and my well won-thrift. Which he calls interest. Cursed be
my tribeIf I forgive him! (I,III,38-49) In other words he is accusing Antonio of
being a vicious anti Semite whose practice of loaning interest free money is a
great threat to his livelihood. This quote indicates that Shylockеs
motives against Antonio stem both from a desire to gain personal revenge as well
as revenge for the injustices of Christians suffered by the Jewish people.
Clearly Antonio and Shylockеs relationship is not on the best of terms
when Antonio comes to Shylock with a request for a loan of 3,000 ducats. In
response to this request, Shylock replies: You call me misbeliever, cutthroat
dog,And spit upon my Jewish gaberdine, And all for use of that which is mine
own. Well then, it now appears you need my help. (I,III,109-112)He goes on to
say: вFair sir, you spit on me on Wednesday last , You spurned me on such
a day, another time You call me dog, and for these courtesies Iеll lend
you thus much moneyг? (I,III,124-127) One would think that Shylock is at
this point able to look past these humiliating acts that Antonio had committed
against him, and is willing to lent him a helping hand in his time in need, but
rather than accept this help as a generous offering, Antonio replies:I am as
like to call thee so again, To spit on thee again, to spurn thee again. If thou
wilt lend this money, lend it not As to thy friends, for when did friendship
take A breed for barren metal of his friend?But it rather to thine enemy, Who if
he break, thou mayest with better face Exact the penalty. This is a very clear
case of provocation. Antonio knows exactly the risk he is taking, and rather
than attempt to foster any kind of peace with Shylock, he embraces hate and
encourages Shylock to do the same. Under these circumstances it would take a
very pious man to offer Antonio mercy. Shylockеs inability to find this
mercy for Antonio becomes forgivable. As a result Shylock becomes a man whom the
audience sympathizes with at the end of the play.
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