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How is Shylock presented in Act IV Scene I in The Merchant of Venice? Essay Sample

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How is Shylock presented in Act IV Scene I in The Merchant of Venice? Essay Sample

Shylock is a very complex and confusing character and we see many different facets of him throughout this scene. He could be seen as a villain that is made by Shakespeare to be hated by the audience so that his downfall later in the play can be jeered at. On the other hand, he could be portrayed as a character that is much deeper than the stereotypical evil Jewish moneylender. Impressions of Shylock from past scenes depend on the type of audience. A modern audience may already feel sorry for Shylock, as he has lost his daughter, whom he relies on for help. However, an Elizabethan audience may find him presented as a merciless man who deserved unhappiness in his life. This was mainly because he was a Jew, and the majority of Venice was Christians. This scene alters the audience’s understanding of Shylock’s nature and character considerably.

In Act IV Scene I, admirable qualities for Shylock are presented. Shylock is portrayed as a courageous and bold figure towards a modern audience. This is because he is standing up for his beliefs in the court, not caring that a vast majority of the onlooker’s are all against him, as they are supporting Antonio. Shylock is also presented as an outsider in the court as everyone there is Christian apart from himself. This suggests that he may have felt like an alien amongst everyone, however he still was fearless. This may make a modern audience feel sympathetic towards him; however an Elizabethan audience may have enjoyed this, as they hated Shylock, as he was a Jew.

Moreover, Shylock is shown to be a very fast thinker, because on page 157, Bassanio and Shylock are having a verbal battle between themselves in the court. Shylock tells us, before Antonio interrupts, “wouldst thou have a serpent sting thee twice?” He is rhetorically asking Bassanio that if someone had betrayed him, would he give them a chance to betray him again. Shylock retorts very well to everything Bassanio says, and he makes his argument very convincing and therefore the modern audience would probably agree with his position. The lines are very short, quick and sharp; however they are very cleverly put to insure that the entire court understands him. This proves to a modern audience that he is very intelligent and a very good businessman as he can put his point across very persuasively. Another example of how Shylock is presented in an intelligent way towards a modern audience is on page 155, when he is using rhetorical questions and the rule of three, when he repeats, “are you answer’d yet?” three times. This shows that he is a skilful, accomplished speaker. The language he uses shows an audience that he is very intellectual and dynamic but indicates that he is not a fool. A modern audience would find his speech very organised which shows that he can give out commands.

Shylock includes the oddest examples in his speech, for example he says, “And others, when the bagpipe sings i’ the nose, /Cannot contain their urine…” Shylock uses strange examples that are very comical. He refers to them because he is trying to show that just like this man cannot contain his urine when a bagpipe is played, he cannot help wanting Antonio’s pound of flesh. He is explaining, using strange examples, that these things are human manner, and as long as they are within the boundaries of the law, there is no need for an explanation to justify why they happen. For example, when Shylock says, “Some men there are love not a gaping pig.” He is saying that no one can justify why there are some odd people who don’t like pigs. A modern audience would find this a very dexterous way of presenting his judgement. By using strange examples, Shylock is giving the audience an impression of how competent he is and this shows us how knowledgeable he can be when he needs to be.

As a modern audience, we can tell that Shakespeare wrote this play for a fully Christian audience in a time where Jews were demonised for not being Christian. We know this because of the racial abuse presented towards Shylock from Antonio and the Judge in this scene. We pity Shylock and sympathise with him because he is a victim of racism. The first example of this is when the Shylock first enters and the Judge is talking to him. He says on his last line, “We all expect a gentle answer, Jew.” The Judge refers to Shylock as his religion, “Jew”, and not by his actual name. However, when referring to Antonio, he calls him by his name and not by his religion. This shows that he is not only siding with Antonio but also is being racist, and a modern audience would have hatred and disgust towards the Judge, as he is a person of such high standard and is supposed to be impartial. We may also find this uncomfortable, as we are not used to this behaviour in our everyday lives. On the other hand, an Elizabethan audience may find it natural, but quite humorous to see Shylock being discouraged and bullied as he is of a different religion to them with different beliefs. From reading past scenes, Shylock tells Salerio how Christians and Jews are the same, even though they have different religions.

“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?”

An Elizabethan audience may find this ridiculous, as they believed that Christians are better than Jews. However a modern audience would find this very true, and would think that it is very strange not to have those views. This proves that Shylock is a very helpless man, as he cannot do anything to change the way the people thought about Jews. It also makes us sympathise with Shylock because of the way he is treated by the Christians and because of the fact that he will never be able to become a person who people respect and admire, just because he is not a Christian.

A modern audience would describe Shylock as a tragic figure at the end of this scene as he has nothing left to live for; his daughter has ran away and left him, his entire wealth is being given to his son-in-law and daughter when he dies, and his religion is taken away from him and converted into Christianity. We are compassionate towards him as we find this quite malicious. Nevertheless, an Elizabethan audience would have found this amusing and thought that Shylock had deserved it. A modern audience may have empathy towards Shylock, as he doesn’t know that the doctor is Portia, so she is siding with Antonio and she wants Shylock to fail in receiving his bond. An Elizabethan audience may find this entertaining and amusing, as they want Antonio to survive. From past scenes, it is evident that Shylock has been spat on by Antonio and has been called names such as “dog”. Below is an extract from one of Shylock’s talks with Antonio, before lending money to them.

“You call me misbeliever, cut-throat dog, And spit upon my Jewish gabardine…”

This is showing a modern audience how Jews were treated in those times and how much Shylock had to suffer. Christians called Jew’s “cut-throat dogs” as an insult they hurled at them. When Shylock says that he was called a “misbeliever”, we feel hatred towards Antonio, and empathize with Shylock. An Elizabethan audience would have felt that Shylock deserved these names, because he was a Jew. However, as a modern audience we believe that no one should be named in this way.

As well as that, Shylock may seem very childish to an Elizabethan audience for the reason that he mentions the word “bond” very often when he speaks and does not answer Portia’s questions. Nevertheless, a modern audience may find that he is using tactical techniques to side step Portia’s questions, so that he doesn’t have to give anything away or reveal his plans. He also fight’s off his opponents good points, for example, when Portia recommends to having a surgeon to seize the pound of flesh from Antonio’s breast, she mentions that he should allow it out of good will and “charity”. However, Shylock simply replies, “I cannot find it; ’tis not in the bond.” Shylock kicks off all the persuasion he is given and replaces it with a carefree look and a short, snappy reply. This shows that he is extremely determined and eager to obtain his revenge.

Shylock can also be described as a shrewd man. This is because he is very cunning and seems to be someone who knows how to play a situation to his own advantage. For example, he says, If every ducat in six thousand ducats Were in six parts, and every part a ducat, I would not draw them; I would have my bond.”

This proves that he is a very good businessman, as he is not agreeing to anything he is offered, however is only wanting what he had come for, his bond. However, it can also be seen as though he is very stubborn and dim-witted, as he is not taking this grand sum of money. A modern audience may find him to be a very determined person, as he is only accepting what he wants.

Although Shylock has his good points and we can sympathise with him, he also has many flaws. Shylock is a very stubborn and inflexible person, who wants everything his way. Also, he doesn’t want to let go of his chance to make Antonio suffer, and does not care about whether he is harming someone or not. Furthermore, a modern audience would find him stubborn because he does not agree to have a surgeon take the pound of flesh from Antonio’s breast when Portia suggests it. His reply to Portia is, “Is it so nominated in the bond?” This shows the audience how inflexible he is, as he sticks to the bond very vigorously without even thinking about other possible ways of dealing with the situation. He believes that whatever is in the bond, he has to abide by that.

Although Shylock is very intelligent, he has his moments of being quite unwise. This is because he does not take twice the sum of ducats while he has the advantage, but still wants the pound of flesh. This seems inhuman to both audiences and a modern audience may start to find him irritating as Shylock refers to the bond as if it is his rulebook. An Elizabethan audience may be preparing for Antonio’s death, and will also hate Shylock even more than they already do. The audience may find Shylock cruel and inhuman because he has already got his scales out, ready to measure Antonio’s pound of flesh. He portrays himself to be very serious and eager to seek his revenge.

A modern audience may find Shylock quite frustrating because when he thinks the ball in his court, and he believes that he is sure the situation is in his control, he flatters Portia, whom he thinks is a doctor. An example of this is when the judgement is given. Shylock says to Portia, “O noble judge, o excellent young man.” We may also find him frustrating because he mentions the word “bond” a lot when he talks. This presents Shylock to be a very provoking character as he may try and aggravate people into getting his way.

In addition, Shylock is presented as a comic figure towards an Elizabethan audience. This is because Gratiano was mocking him, by flattering Portia in the same way Shylock had done when he was in control. An Elizabethan audience would have found this witty as the tables have turned on Shylock, whereas a modern audience may have had mixed views. Some may pity on Shylock because of the bullying by Gratiano and because Shylock is now going to have to suffer dramatically and face the consequences, however a vast majority will probably feel relieved that Antonio has survived and will still find Shylock to be inhuman and wretched.

When Shylock sharpens his knife to get ready to obtain his pound of flesh, he sharpens his knife on his knee. He portrays himself to be brutal and callous because of this. This action shows the audience how merciless he is and suggests how bloodthirsty and vengeful he is towards Antonio.

Shylock is also presented as a greedy, money centred man who is very materialistic. This is because he says,

“You take my house, when you do take the prop

That doth sustain my house…”

Shylock is making it evident to the audience that he cannot live without his money, and does not have the courage and dignity to be a beggar. Therefore he would rather they took his life. He is presented as very money centred and quite unappreciative, as he is not caring about the life he is given and is sacrificing it because of his wealth. This shows the audience that all he lived for in his entire life was his money.

Moreover, Jessica does not seem to have a very big space in Shylock’s heart. This is because he says,

“Would any of the stock of Barrabas

Had been her husband rather than a Christian.”

This tells us how much he hates Christians. He may hate them because of the way they treat Jews, or simply because Christian’s hate Jew’s. A modern audience would now see that it is not only Christians who are at fault of racism, but also Jew’s. Also, Shylock explains how he would have rather desired Jessica’s husband to be from “any of the stock of Barrabas” rather than a Christian. When Shylock says “any”, he seems as though he doesn’t care very much who she marries, as long as he is a Jew. This not only shows his hatred towards Christians, but also how much he loves his daughter. Elizabethan audience would find this statement horrifying, as the majority of them would be Christian.

Some may feel hatred towards Shylock in this part of the scene because he was going to take a pound of flesh from Antonio. From my point of view, I think that it is more accurate to feel sympathetic towards him because I don’t think that Shylock would have taken such drastic actions against Antonio if there was not such an immense contrast between Jews and Christians. I think that Shylock is just punishing Antonio for being so cruel, and if Antonio had given the slightest bit of respect to Shylock, then I think his attitude would not have been so horrifying.

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