Shylock: of seriousness when one realizes that they

Shylock: A Misunderstood Victim

            Often times we find ourselves cheering
for the heroes of the story and wanting the villain to fail in their mission to
destroy the world and the lives of those around them. That is actually what is
expected of a good citizen. But what happens when we look deeper into the
motives and details of the situation concerning the “good” and the “bad” and
realize we have been rooting for the wrong person? This question was brought
into my attention after reading The
Merchant of Venice and suddenly realizing that I was rooting for Antonio
when I should have been rooting for Shylock. Although Shylock is popularly
considered to be the villain in The
Merchant of Venice, in actuality, he is a misunderstood victim to whom
justice was not served. In fact, Shylock’s person was the only one to whom
violations had been made and, therefore, the only one who deserved justice. Said
violations reach a higher level of seriousness when one realizes that they were
made not entirely because of what Shylock does but mainly because of who he is, a Jew.

            In order to see shylock as the misunderstood
victim that he is during the trial we must first put Antonio on center stage,
closely followed by Lorenzo. From the first line of the play, the reader is
driven to feel sorry for Antonio after he professes that, “In sooth I know not
why I am so sad…” (1.1.1). This sympathy is amplified as we see what a
good-hearted friend Antonio is to Bassanio when he is willing to be indebted to
Shylock for Bassanio’s personal gains, “I pray you, good Bassanio, let me know
it, And, if it stand, as you yourself still do, Within the eye of honor, be
assured My purse, my person, my extremest means Lie all unlock to your occasions”
(1.1.135-139). The means to which Antonio is willing to go to for his friend is
worthy of admiration; and just like that, Antonio has us in his pocket; most of
us, but not all of us. Fortunately for Shylock, Antonio’s dark side emerges
during his conversation with Shylock to request a loan of 3,000 ducats. While
his intentions for his friend is noble, he quickly shows that his good kindness
and nobility does not extend to everyone, especially not to Shylock when
Shylock mentions all the insults done to him by Antonio;

            Signior
Antonio, many a time and oft in the Rialto you have rated me

            About
my moneys and my usances. Still have I borne it with a patient

            Shrug,for
suff’rance is the badge of all our tribe. You call me misbeliever,

            cutthroat
dog, and spit upon my Jewish gabardine- and all for use of that

            which
is my own. Well, then, it now appears you need my help. Got to, then!

            You
come to me and you say, “Shylock, we woild have moneys.” You

            Say
so- You, that did void your rheum upon my beard and foot me as you

            Spurn
a stranger cur over your threshold. 
(1.3.102-115)

           

In the above
passage it becomes more than clear that Antonio can be very capable of
mistreating others, especially when they are Jews or when they do not abide to
his own costumes. What is more frightening is that Shylock, through accusing
Antonio of his ill treatment, makes the audience aware of Antonio’s nasty side
and Antonio does not ever deny the accusations. Antonio, in fact, declares that
he would do it again and in doing so, he shows no remorse, “I am as like to
call thee so again, To spit on thee again, to spurn thee too” (1.3.125-126).
Feeling sad and doing anything to help a friend does not exempt anyone from
behavior that diminishes anyone else. It is at this point that the audience
should begin to at least realize that Antonio is not as great as one might have
initially thought.        

            Furthermore, continuing to take a
look at characters close to Antonio sheds even more light into the reasons for
which Shylock was justified to feel as he did during the trial scene and why he
did not receive any justice. For instance, Lorenzo plays a great part in the
injustice that Shylock endures because he hurts Shylock by taking his daughter,
Jessica, away. That Jessica running away with Lorenzo is a reflection of the
awful man that Shylock is portrayed to be holds no weight when one considers
that any young woman in love would do as Jessica did when she is blinded by
love. Not only did Lorenzo and Jessica cause great insult and pain to Shylock
by running away but also they continued to cause Shylock great pain and anger
by stealing his belongings and important items, “The curse never fell upon our
nation till now. I never felt it till now. Two thousand ducats in that, and
other precious precious jewels” (3.1.74-77). Shylock’s anger towards Lorenzo is
completely understandable because no parent deserves its child to run away with
someone who clearly shows neither regards nor respect for the parent. As
unfortunate as it may be, this incident only fuels Shylock’s anger towards
Antonio because Lorenzo and Antonio are part of the same group of friends. At
this point, it is very clear how Shylock has been wronged by Antonio and
Lorenzo and why he is justified in feeling the anger and need for justice that
he has. In her article, Shylock’s Virtual
Injuries, Elizabeth Fowler brings up the idea that it is Shylock’s virtual
injuries that drive or encourage Shylock to act as viciously as Jews were
expected to act, “Shylock is shown to have sustained such injury, and he has
chosen to vengefully embrace a vicious view of Jews and make it his own”
(Fowler, 62). It is Antonio and Lorenzo’s racism towards Shylock for being a
Jew what drives him to treat Antonio and Lorenzo as they have treated him. In
addition, although asking for a pound of Antonio’s flesh as payment may seem
extreme, Antonio did voluntarily agreed to the terms of the contract and was
fully aware of what the consequences would be if he was not able to keep his
side of the bargain. Shylock, however, stood no chance in court against a
Christian man. 

It is Shylock’s Jewishness that prevents
him from ever getting justice. In From Jesus to Shylock: Christian Supersessionism and The
Merchant of Venice Susannah Heschel discusses how there is racism in
religion, especially against Jews. She compares Jesus and Shylock and how, even
though they are both initially Jewish, they are viewed differently,  “Jesus has been the model for goodness, though
not because of his Jewishness, while Shylock has been the model for wickedness
precisely because he is Jew.” (Heschel, 408). This goes to show that Shylock
was viewed as a Jew before being considered anything else, and consequently, he
would never be favored in trial where there is religious racism against him. The
racism against Jews is reflected when even converted Jews are not fully
accepted in society. The reasoning behind this lies in the belief that Judaism
represents the body while Christianity represents the spirit. Therefore, a
converted Jew is still trapped in its inferior Jewish body. Christians do not
see Jews as actual humans and for this reason, Shylock and all Jews, except
Jesus who they claimed was born an Aryan, are doomed because of what they are. Heschel’s
article made me realize that if a converted Jew is still not considered an
equal in a Christian and anti-Semitic society, what can an actual Jew expect
from a trial in that society? Certainly not justice.

Another
scholar, Susan Oldrieve, touches
on how both Shylock and Portia were marginalized voices in The Merchant of Venice. In her article, Marginalized
Voices in “The Merchant of Venice”,
Oldrieve mentions that Shylock and Portia were not so different, “Women and
Jews could be seen as symbolic of absolute otherness- alien, mysterious,
uncivilized, unredeemed” (Oldrieve, 87). The only difference between Shylock and Portia, in fact, is that Shylock
was not able to get the system designed against his well being to work for him
whereas Portia was. Even though Portia was also marginalized in their society,
Shylock still came off worse than she did. Because Jews were seen as inferior
to Catholics, Shylock was condemned by the court and shown no mercy.  

Shylock
had many reasons to act as he did in The
Merchant of Venice. He was violated against not only through his business
life but also through his personal life and he was not served justice. On the
other hand, rather than seeing justice carried out against those who mistreated
him in any form, he was the one who was punished when he should not have. In
essence, he is the one victim in the entire play and, unfortunately, the only
one who looses everything that makes him who he is.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Works Cited

 

1. Heschel, S. (2006). From Jesus to Shylock: Christian
Supersessionism and The Merchant of Venice. Harvard Theological Review, 99(4), 407-431.

           

2. Oldrieve,
Susan. “Marginalized Voices in “The Merchant of Venice”” Law
; Literature, vol. 5, no. 1, 1993, pp. 87–105.

 

3. Fowler, Elizabeth. “Shylock’s Virtual
Injuries.” Shakespeare Studies, vol.
34, 2006, p. 56.

 

4.
 Crawford, Julie,
editor. The Merchant of Venice.
Barnes and noble, 2008.

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