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Thursday, January 09, 2020

Character Sketch of Shylock in Merchant of Venice

Shylock is one of the greatest of Shakespeare's villains in his famous comedy 'Merchant of Venice'. He is a dominating figure in every scene in which he appears till he goes out of the play a broken old man tricked out of his rights.

Character Sketch of Shylock
Character Sketch of Shylock 

No other character has been painted by Shakespeare with more fullness and concreteness of details than Shylock. Shakespeare also like all his contemporaries felt a bitter hatred for the Jews; but Shakespeare the artist, transfigure the Jews by his dramatic genius.

Character Sketch - Shylock


As the character of Shylock grew and developed the earlier critics have criticised Shylock as an unmitigated villain with two prominent qualities - his avarice, stinginess, and his passion for revenge and vindictiveness.

The romantic critics like William Hazlitt represented Shylock as a tragic figure with a great and noble nature like a great volcano in ruins. Hazlitt's view is summed up in the oft-quoted statement - "Shylock is more sinned against than sinning". 

Shylock has been described as a man with a great sense of patriotism and love for racism but it is a fact that Shylock is the very embodiment of cunning and cruelty, avarice and lowliness. He is also a schemer who conspires against his rival Antonio and wants him to put to death under the garb of friendship. 

All appeal to Shylock of mercy and pity; but all their efforts go in vain. He is a typical money-lender indifferent to tender feelings. He is the father who speaks no word of love to his daughter and who says he would gladly see his daughter dead at his feet.

Most of the critics and the actors have painted Shylock in a very grotesque manner. What exactly were the sins committed by Shylock? He was a money lender who lent money for profit, money-lending was his profession. He loved money because it gave him the only source of protection among the hostile Christian as a Jew. 

As a money-lender he hated Antonio for his profession ruin ans he had been constantly insulted and abused by Antonio. 

The desire of revenge is almost inseparable from the sense of wrong. To crown all these things his own daughter eloped with a Christian, stealing his jewels and a lot of money. 

Shylock is vindictive, no doubt, but his vindictiveness is the result of the treatment he had received at the hands of the Christians. But all these things cannot excuse Shylock for the cruelty of cutting a pound of flesh from Antonio's body.

Shylock incurs the wrath and dislike of everyone when he rejects the appeal of mercy and pity at the trial scene in the end. He is caught in his own trap and is sentenced not only to part with all his money and property but also to embrace Christianity, a religion he hated from the bottom of his heart. 

Shylock had not sinned but the sin that are done to him far out-weigh the wrong he had done; or he was going to do. Hence when Shylock leaves the court frustrated and cheated we cannot but exclaim, "The poor man is much wronged". 

We can admire strength in this villain like Macbeth another wicked character by Shakespeare. Shylock also retains same sympathy as a strong fighter. He is not given any redeeming quality to set against his evil.

Shylock had a deep pride in his notion and a fanatical love for his religion. He is a typical Jew but was not meant to be a type. Shylock should not be considered as a type of his race.                   


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