Many people view Shylock as a character for whom we cannot feel sympathy. After all, he does take revenge on Antonio in a very brutal way. However, if we look at the story from Shylock’s perspective, it is easier to see why he might have acted the way that he did.
Firstly, Shylock is a victim of discrimination. He is a Jew, and therefore, is treated very poorly by many of the characters in the play. This probably makes him feel angry and bitter towards them. Secondly, Shylock is not given any rights in Venice – he can’t own land, for example, which makes it difficult for him to make a living. This would also make him angry and resentful.
Finally, Shylock is a father who wants the best for his daughter. He is very protective of her and wants her to have a good life, even though she is not Jewish. When Antonio refuses to give him his daughter’s hand in marriage, it is the final straw for Shylock. He feels that he has been wronged by Antonio and decides to take revenge.
So, although Shylock may not be a sympathetic character, we can understand why he acted the way that he did. This makes the play more interesting and complex than if he were just a stereotypical villain.
In William Shakespeare’s play The Merchant of Venice, there is a recurring theme of prejudice. Portia has to deal with sexism, the Moroccan Prince has to deal with racism, but Shylock is the character who suffers most because he is a Jew and a money-lender. He is despised for being both a Jew and a money-lender, yet Shakespeare makes Shylock an unlikable figure. He comes off as ruthless and heartless, and it appears that he values money above all else.
However, when we look a little closer at the play, we can see that there may be reasons for Shylock’s bitterness and that we can feel sympathy for him. Shylock has been treated very badly by Antonio and his friends. They have not only refused to borrow money from him, but they have also insulted him and his religion. In one scene, Gratiano calls Shylock “an infidel dog” and tells him that he will “hang thee on the gallows high”. This kind of abuse would make anyone angry and bitter and it is easy to understand why Shylock wants revenge.
Although he is on the other side of the law, Shylock has a personality and humanity, as seen in his speeches during the play. Despite there being little tolerance for Jews when it was written, the audience is made to feel sorry for him during these moments. Shakespeare has fashioned a protagonist who will elicit change in sentiments from the audience every minute. We still dislike Shylock today because of his religion and profession when religious prejudice was not nearly as strong years ago.
The reason for this is that Shakespeare has written him as someone who is not just a victim of circumstance but also someone who makes bad decisions. The audience knows that Shylock deserves to be punished for his actions, but they also feel sorry for him because of the way he has been treated.
It can be said that Shylock is a character for whom we can feel sympathy because despite all of the terrible things that have happened to him, he still retains his human qualities. He may be greedy and vengeful, but he also shows kindness and love.
For example, when Jessica runs away from home, Shylock does not want her to be hurt and says “Hath not a Jew eyes? hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? Fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?” (III.i.59-66).
This shows that Shakespeare has allowed Shylock to be a complex character with both good and bad qualities. Although it is possible to feel sympathy for Shylock, it is important to remember that he is still responsible for his own actions. He may have been mistreated, but that does not excuse the fact that he wanted to take Antonio’s life and also took money from him illegally. The audience is made to feel sympathetic towards Shylock, but at the same time they are aware of his faults. This is what makes him a believable character and it is also why he is one of Shakespeare’s most memorable creations.
His avarice and love of money are two of the most notable characteristics that distinguish him as an unpleasant person. His first words are undoubtedly “Three thousand ducats; well,” perhaps a Shakespearean device to indicate to the audience what is most essential to Shylock quickly.
The fact that Shakespeare has Shylock say this, makes us wonder if we should be feeling sorry for him later on when he gets his ‘pound of flesh’ taken. Shylock is also very proud and cannot stand to be made fun of. In Act 1 Scene 3, Gratiano makes a joke about how Shylock’s daughter Jessica has run away with Lorenzo, and Shylock says “I would my daughter were dead at my foot, And the jewels in her ear! Would she were hearsed at my foot, And the ducats in her coffin!” This shows how much he loved his daughter and how hurt he is that she has run away. The audience might feel sorry for him at this point as they know he is going to be punished later on.
Later in the play, when Shylock has his ‘pound of flesh’ taken from him, we see that he is not really the bad guy after all. The reason he wants Antonio to pay back the loan with interest is because if he doesn’t, his daughter will be homeless and have to live on the streets.
This makes us feel sorry for him as it is clear that he is not a heartless man, but instead someone who just wants what is best for his family. In the end, even though Antonio does not end up paying back the loan, Bassanio does and so Shylock is still able to keep his daughter. The audience might feel sympathy for him at this point as he has been through a lot.