Shylock: A Misunderstood Victim Often times we find ourselves cheeringfor the heroes of the story and wanting the villain to fail in their mission todestroy the world and the lives of those around them.
That is actually what isexpected of a good citizen. But what happens when we look deeper into themotives and details of the situation concerning the “good” and the “bad” andrealize we have been rooting for the wrong person? This question was broughtinto my attention after reading TheMerchant of Venice and suddenly realizing that I was rooting for Antoniowhen I should have been rooting for Shylock. Although Shylock is popularlyconsidered to be the villain in TheMerchant of Venice, in actuality, he is a misunderstood victim to whomjustice was not served.
In fact, Shylock’s person was the only one to whomviolations had been made and, therefore, the only one who deserved justice. Saidviolations reach a higher level of seriousness when one realizes that they weremade not entirely because of what Shylock does but mainly because of who he is, a Jew. In order to see shylock as the misunderstoodvictim 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 isdriven to feel sorry for Antonio after he professes that, “In sooth I know notwhy I am so sad…” (1.1.1).
This sympathy is amplified as we see what agood-hearted friend Antonio is to Bassanio when he is willing to be indebted toShylock for Bassanio’s personal gains, “I pray you, good Bassanio, let me knowit, And, if it stand, as you yourself still do, Within the eye of honor, beassured 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 isworthy of admiration; and just like that, Antonio has us in his pocket; most ofus, but not all of us.
Fortunately for Shylock, Antonio’s dark side emergesduring his conversation with Shylock to request a loan of 3,000 ducats. Whilehis intentions for his friend is noble, he quickly shows that his good kindnessand nobility does not extend to everyone, especially not to Shylock whenShylock mentions all the insults done to him by Antonio; SigniorAntonio, many a time and oft in the Rialto you have rated me Aboutmy moneys and my usances. Still have I borne it with a patient Shrug,forsuff’rance is the badge of all our tribe. You call me misbeliever, cutthroatdog, and spit upon my Jewish gabardine- and all for use of that whichis my own.
Well, then, it now appears you need my help. Got to, then! Youcome to me and you say, “Shylock, we woild have moneys.” You Sayso- You, that did void your rheum upon my beard and foot me as you Spurna stranger cur over your threshold.
(1.3.102-115) In the abovepassage it becomes more than clear that Antonio can be very capable ofmistreating others, especially when they are Jews or when they do not abide tohis own costumes. What is more frightening is that Shylock, through accusingAntonio of his ill treatment, makes the audience aware of Antonio’s nasty sideand Antonio does not ever deny the accusations. Antonio, in fact, declares thathe would do it again and in doing so, he shows no remorse, “I am as like tocall 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 frombehavior that diminishes anyone else. It is at this point that the audienceshould begin to at least realize that Antonio is not as great as one might haveinitially thought. Furthermore, continuing to take alook at characters close to Antonio sheds even more light into the reasons forwhich Shylock was justified to feel as he did during the trial scene and why hedid not receive any justice. For instance, Lorenzo plays a great part in theinjustice that Shylock endures because he hurts Shylock by taking his daughter,Jessica, away. That Jessica running away with Lorenzo is a reflection of theawful man that Shylock is portrayed to be holds no weight when one considersthat any young woman in love would do as Jessica did when she is blinded bylove.
Not only did Lorenzo and Jessica cause great insult and pain to Shylockby running away but also they continued to cause Shylock great pain and angerby stealing his belongings and important items, “The curse never fell upon ournation till now. I never felt it till now. Two thousand ducats in that, andother precious precious jewels” (3.
1.74-77). Shylock’s anger towards Lorenzo iscompletely understandable because no parent deserves its child to run away withsomeone who clearly shows neither regards nor respect for the parent. Asunfortunate as it may be, this incident only fuels Shylock’s anger towardsAntonio because Lorenzo and Antonio are part of the same group of friends. Atthis point, it is very clear how Shylock has been wronged by Antonio andLorenzo and why he is justified in feeling the anger and need for justice thathe has. In her article, Shylock’s VirtualInjuries, Elizabeth Fowler brings up the idea that it is Shylock’s virtualinjuries that drive or encourage Shylock to act as viciously as Jews wereexpected to act, “Shylock is shown to have sustained such injury, and he haschosen 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 aJew what drives him to treat Antonio and Lorenzo as they have treated him.
Inaddition, although asking for a pound of Antonio’s flesh as payment may seemextreme, Antonio did voluntarily agreed to the terms of the contract and wasfully aware of what the consequences would be if he was not able to keep hisside of the bargain. Shylock, however, stood no chance in court against aChristian man. It is Shylock’s Jewishness that preventshim from ever getting justice. In From Jesus to Shylock: Christian Supersessionism and TheMerchant of Venice Susannah Heschel discusses how there is racism inreligion, especially against Jews. She compares Jesus and Shylock and how, eventhough they are both initially Jewish, they are viewed differently, “Jesus has been the model for goodness, thoughnot because of his Jewishness, while Shylock has been the model for wickednessprecisely because he is Jew.
” (Heschel, 408). This goes to show that Shylockwas viewed as a Jew before being considered anything else, and consequently, hewould never be favored in trial where there is religious racism against him. Theracism against Jews is reflected when even converted Jews are not fullyaccepted in society. The reasoning behind this lies in the belief that Judaismrepresents the body while Christianity represents the spirit.
Therefore, aconverted Jew is still trapped in its inferior Jewish body. Christians do notsee Jews as actual humans and for this reason, Shylock and all Jews, exceptJesus who they claimed was born an Aryan, are doomed because of what they are. Heschel’sarticle made me realize that if a converted Jew is still not considered anequal in a Christian and anti-Semitic society, what can an actual Jew expectfrom a trial in that society? Certainly not justice.Anotherscholar, Susan Oldrieve, toucheson how both Shylock and Portia were marginalized voices in The Merchant of Venice. In her article, MarginalizedVoices in “The Merchant of Venice”,Oldrieve mentions that Shylock and Portia were not so different, “Women andJews 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 Shylockwas not able to get the system designed against his well being to work for himwhereas Portia was. Even though Portia was also marginalized in their society,Shylock still came off worse than she did. Because Jews were seen as inferiorto Catholics, Shylock was condemned by the court and shown no mercy.
Shylockhad many reasons to act as he did in TheMerchant of Venice. He was violated against not only through his businesslife but also through his personal life and he was not served justice. On theother hand, rather than seeing justice carried out against those who mistreatedhim in any form, he was the one who was punished when he should not have. Inessence, he is the one victim in the entire play and, unfortunately, the onlyone who looses everything that makes him who he is. Works Cited 1. Heschel, S.
(2006). From Jesus to Shylock: ChristianSupersessionism 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 VirtualInjuries.” Shakespeare Studies, vol.34, 2006, p. 56. 4.
Crawford, Julie,editor. The Merchant of Venice.Barnes and noble, 2008.