“The Merchant of Venice” is a play written by William Shakespeare.
There is an unclear verdict as to whether Shylock is a villain or victim. This
is expressed evidently throughout the whole play and anti-Semitism should be considered
because we witness overwhelming prejudice against Shylock. As well as that, when Shylock exacts his
revenge, he is called cruel and ruthless. This is a difficult answer as Shylock
is a complex and ambivalent character. Shylock is written this way purposely by
Shakespeare to cause controversy and provoke readers, making Shylock a
remarkable character.

            Bassanio asks Antonio, an Italian
merchant, for money to visit his soon-to-be wife Portia. Antonio is short of money,
so he goes to Jewish moneylender named Shylock.
Antonio has always ridiculed and mocked Shylock, therefore when they make a short-term bond for three thousand ducats, the
penalty for not returning the money is one pound of Antonio’s flesh to be
exacted by Shylock. After Shylock’s daughter Jessica, elopes with a Christian
man, Shylock desires revenge more than ever. Meanwhile, two of Antonio’s ships
have sunk. When the news about Antonio’s plight reaches Bassanio, he goes back
to Venice, leaving Portia behind. Portia then travels to Venice with Nerissa,
her maid, disguised as a male lawyer and his clerk. Antonio does not repay his
debt to Shylock and their case is therefore taken to court. Shylock, determined
to get his revenge, is allowed to get his pound of flesh on the condition that
he doesn’t shed blood as it is illegal to shed a Christian’s blood. Since the
pound of flesh being exacted will most likely kill Antonio, Shylock is denied
his pound of flesh. To add to his misery, Shylock is convicted of attempting to murder a Venetian citizen, due to
that, Portia demands he loses all his wealth. Half of his wealth is to go to
Antonio, and the other half is to go to the city. Antonio gives back his half
on the condition that it goes to Jessica. Shylock is also then obligated to
convert to Christianity. Shylock, broken, with no other means of getting his
revenge, accepts.

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            During the start of the play Shylock
is depicted as a victim as we are only seeing how Shylock has been abused and
the treatment he has gotten from Antonio. In Act 1, Scene 3 when Bassanio and
Antonio are borrowing money from Shylock he says
“Fair sir, you spit on me Wednesday last… I’ll lend you thus much moneys?”. This
is relevant because Antonio has spat on Shylock, he has victimised and
belittled him making him a victim.

However, Shylock isn’t always victimised.
Shylock is frequently acting like a villain creating an odd balance between
villain and victim. In Act 1, Scene 3, Shylock says “I hate him for he is a
Christian”. This truly shows how deep this grudge between Shylock and Antonio

In Act 1, Scene 3, in a moment of dark
humour Shylock says “in a merry sport, If you
repay me not on such a day… nominated for an equal pound of your fair flesh, to be cut off and taken In
what part of your body pleaseth me.” Shylock is saying that if the bond is
sealed and the sum is not repaid, then a pound of Antonio’s flesh will be cut
off by Shylcok from wherever he pleases. Shylock is portrayed as a villain as this
is a spiteful and revengeful condition as cutting off 1 pound of Antonio’s flesh
will most likely kill him. 


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