The Taming of the Jew

Though the audience is supposed to view Shylock as the villain through out the play, i believe that an argument could be made that he is more of a victim then any of the other characters. It is his heritage that makes him an outcast from the beginning of the play, this is what  makes his beliefs different and his clothing seem odd. I feel that by forcing him to convert to Christianity at the end of the play they are not only defeating him, but completely removing all characteristics that make him an individual.

Shylock’s motivation throughout the play is to get revenge on Antonio who mocks him publicly for his business and his heritage. I for one believe that this is enough reasoning to seek revenge, especially since Antonio shows no regret for his acts and goes so far as to say that he would do it again. Shylock is pushed to his breaking point when his daughter, his own flesh and blood, runs away from him and takes everything he owns that is worth something. Then to add insult to injury the whole town mocks his misfortune, and many even helped his daughter escape. This on top of all the abuse Shylock has suffered is enough to drive any man down a dark path.

After everything that Shylock has been through he finally gets the chance to get revenge upon a man that stands for everything that has gone wrong in his life, but he lets his anger screw him over in the end. Shylock refuses to show sympathy to Antonio, who has done nothing to earn this other then being a popular man within the town and the court. He says, “I cannot find it. ‘Tis not in the bond” (line257 act. 4 scene 1). His poor choice of words gives Portia the ability to find the loophole where blood is not mentioned in the bond either, so if he draws any amount of Christian blood then his lands and goods are forfeit to the state. Since he refused the money in open court to seek his revenge instead, this means that he can no longer take the money that was owed to him. On top of this he must render half of his money to Antonio and the other half he can keep as long as he leaves everything to his traitor daughter Jessica and her husband Lorenzo. Shylock must also convert to Christianity, so he basically loses everything the case, half his money, and his heritage.

After the court has taken everything from Shylock they go ever farther by rubbing his defeat in his face by saying, “Art thou content, Jew? (act. 4 scene 1 line 388). What can a man say who has lost everything that has made him an individual and forced to accept a daughter who turned her back on him and took everything she could with her. Shylock’s line, “I am content,” (act.4 scene.1 line 389) is the only reasonable response. He can no longer fight back against the Christan majority which abused and mocked him for his ways, so he must accept defeat.

In the end the think the Christians go too far in humbling Shylock. They take away his manhood and everything that makes him an individual. I understand that they could not let him enact his revenge which would have killed Antonio, but at least let him keep his heritage.

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6 thoughts on “The Taming of the Jew

  1. Tori Holm

    While in the beginning of this play I honestly did believe everything that your blog stands for. Shylock has been forced into a corner, theoretically speaking, and there are little ways for him to turn. He was been publically humiliated in several ways, he is within a culture unlike his own, and his own religion is viewed in such negative eyes. He, in my original opinion, was more of a victim than an actual villain. However, in Act III when Shylock has his speech, things change. He goes over how he has been ridiculed, “If you prick us, do we not bleed”, but it goes beyond validating his actions towards Antonio. He goes so far as to say he will “perfect the instruction”, there is a turn for the worst in Shylock and in that instance he leaps out of the victim role and into the villain. He goes beyond just getting what “he deserves” and decides to take what he wants.

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  2. Darya

    I agree with the idea that Shylock is more victim than villain in the play, mostly because of the unfair ratio of Jews to Christians. Shylock was making the best out of what he knew how to do in order to make his living and obtain money, and although he may not have necessarily gone about his business out of the goodness of his heart, the way he did things made him who he was; an individual in a society of Christians. And I also agree with the idea that his forced conversion into Christianity took away the last of his being.

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  3. Natalie Giuliano

    I agree that Shylock has every right to want revenge, but I think what's interesting is that he had a choice between taking it and being bigger than his abusers/ walking away from it. I feel that what makes him villainous is that he gave into his desires and did attempt to cut Antonio's flesh. I am conflicted though because at the same time, he is only human and as you've said, the Christians have done everything in their power to strip him of his dignity and sense of self. Rather than ridicule his attempt at revenge, we can also see it as him taking a courageous stand for his beliefs and not giving up until the very end. In addition, do the Christians really even "humble" him at the end? or are they taking it so far for their own pleasure and unrecognized attempt at vengeance?

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  4. Natalie Giuliano

    I agree that Shylock has every right to want revenge, but I think what's interesting is that he had a choice between taking it and being bigger than his abusers/ walking away from it. I feel that what makes him villainous is that he gave into his desires and did attempt to cut Antonio's flesh. I am conflicted though because at the same time, he is only human and as you've said, the Christians have done everything in their power to strip him of his dignity and sense of self. Rather than ridicule his attempt at revenge, we can also see it as him taking a courageous stand for his beliefs and not giving up until the very end. In addition, do the Christians really even "humble" him at the end? or are they taking it so far for their own pleasure and unrecognized attempt at vengeance?

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  5. SamAdler

    I agree with you completely. Shylock is just a circumstance of situation. The play starts with the ridiculous bond, that Antonio and Bassiano talk themselves into. They go to get a loan from Shylock but don't want to pay interest on it, even though that is Shylock's usual way of business. So they insult him and act as if they have this money already, so he in turn puts them in place and puts Antonio's body on the line if they don't fulfill the bond. The play progresses with Shakespeare making the comparison between the actions of the Christians and the actions of The Jew. There are multiple Christian perspectives but really only one Jewish one. They even take Shylocks daughter from him and tell him that she isn't his flesh and blood. Shakespeare has it so the reader understands the values of these Christians but also the fallacy in the characters for completely ignoring their values and acting in evil ways. So Shylock is portrayed as the evil character but really just reacts to what is given to him. His name lends a light into his character. He is Shy about his religion, but locked in like a prison to its societal impact. At the end of the play, as you have mentioned, they take mostly everything from him, and make him convert. So they take everything he is that define him and takes it away. So even if converting people is Christian ruining peoples lives and stealing thy neighbors daughter isn't morally acceptable. Shakespeare uses this battle of what's morally right to show the equality of humans through the inequalities and consequences of their actions.

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  6. kateconti

    I like how you defend Shylock in your post. It is true. He is being bullied. Jews were not the favored religion in Venice during this time and that is evident. Shakespeare takes his opinions and societies views and writes them in subtly in this piece. What if it were Bassanio who were in a dominantly Jewish society? The tables would be turned dramatically. Shylock was stripped of his manhood. I like how you pointed that out. The monetary value that Shylock places on everything and the themes in the story seem to hit him right where it hurts.

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