Justifying Skylock’s Character

Something that stood out to me throughout The Merchant of Venice is how Shylock’s character is portrayed and how Shylock defends himself making his character more justifiable. As we all know when we first are introduced to Shylock he is portrayed through Antonio’s eyes as a mean money hungry character. Shylock justifies this with many reasons. He is resentful towards Antonio because of the way he lends out money with no interest making it hard for Shylock to make deals with people using his interest rates. Also Antonio acts harsh towards Shylock because of their difference in religion. Another part in the play where Shylock defends his character is Act 3, Scene 1. Salerio asks Shylock his reason for taking Antonio’s flesh if he doesn’t meet his bond. Shylock responds that it will if it does nothing else  get his revenge on Antonio. This scene stuck out the most to me while I was reading and Shylock does a good job justifying the way he is with Antonio, “He hath disgraced me, and hindered me half a million; laughed at my losses, mocked at my gains, scorned my nation, thwarted my bargains, cooled my friends, heated mine enemies, and what’s his reason?—I am a Jew” (3.1.46-49). Shylock then proceeds to go on explaining how him and Antonio are really more similar rather than different and if a Jew does wrong to a Christian the Jew is punished but if reversed the Jew should forgive the Christian. “The villainy you teach me I will execute and it shall go hard” (3.1.60-61) Shylocks reasoning for his harshness towards Antonio is fueled by the harshness Shylock receives from Antonio. This scene made me a little more sensitive to Shylock’s character because he is basically giving back what he gets. Which makes Shylocks character in Act 4 more justifiable when he is in court with everyone because Antonio did not pay his bond. Shylock is sticking to his principles that he will not let Antonio just borrow money and not pay it back and get away with it. After all the scorn Shylock has received from Antonio he is ready to get his revenge for all the awful things he has had done to him. Antonio was so cocky that he would repay Shylock on time and bragging that it would be paid back earlier that he now must stick to the bond and Shylock must take his flesh. After reading the play I am now a little more sensitive to Shylock’s character because the harsh characteristics are brought out because of the way he is treated by Antonio.
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2 thoughts on “Justifying Skylock’s Character

  1. Megan Kalmes

    Kristin, I completely agree with the points that you made in regard to Shylock’s character. I do believe that many of the actions that Shylock committed were unjust and inhumane, however, there is a small part of me that does feel sorry for him. As far as we know, Shylock’s wife is not alive. His daughter, Jessica, is assumably the only person of importance in his life. According to Jessica, living with Shylock was miserable. But, we do not receive any proof in regard to this. For this reason, I do sympathize with Shylock. By the end of Act 4, Shylock has lost nearly everything that he viewed important. His daughter, money, business, and religion have all been ripped away from him. As I said, Shylock is a villain and committed unjust actions throughout the play, but there is a degree of sympathy that I do feel towards him.

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  2. Cyrus Mulready

    This post raises a good general point (one that others have noted, as well): do we see any examples of real Christian charity or mercy in the play? Is there anything Shylock says that would indicate the Christian Venetians treated him at any point with dignity and respect? These are important questions, and as Kristin says, factor into how we view the developments in act four.

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