Is Shylock a victim or a villain
of the society he lives in?
1. Decide what you think – one or other or maybe a
mixture of both?
2. Refer to the society he lived in – 16th century
Venice, a commercial powerhouse but also a place
where Jewish people were forced to live in ghettos
and anti-Semitism flourished.
3. Aim to write 300-400 words.
4. Use formal language.
5. Use the planning sheet and make sure your essay
has an introduction followed by three paragraphs
and a conclusion.
6. Remember to PEE! Point Explain Example and
PEEL link your paragraphs.
7. Include Act and Scene references for quotes
8. Try to ensure quotes are integrated into sentences
using correct punctuation.
9. Proof read your work
10. Due TUESDAY AUGUST 2
11. This info sheet is on the wiki!
In William Shakespeare’s play The Merchant of Venice,
Shylock is portrayed as a greedy, spiteful man who is
financially and emotionally ruined after losing a trial
against his arch enemy the Christian merchant Antonio.
Despite his short comings, Shylock is clearly a victim of
the society he lives in who becomes revengeful after
years of ill-treatment from his fellow Venetians.
Shylock is a Jewish money lender (r usurer) who lives
and works in sixteenth century Venice. Shylock and
other Jews were considered a necessary evil in the
bustling commercial hub. Although it was against the
Christians’ belief to lend money for profit, they happily
borrowed money to support their lavish lifestyles. The
Jewish people were tolerated for the service they
provided but at the same time were treated as second
When Antonio needs money so his friend Bassanio can
marry a wealthy heiress, he approaches Shylock. Even
as they are working out the terms of the bond, Antonio
is disrespectful of Shylock saying, “The devil can cite
Scripture for his purpose” (Act 3:1). Shylock also
claims that Antonio has called him names and spat on
him but still agrees to do business with him.
In Act 2:4, Shylock’s only daughter Jessica elopes with
a Christian named Lorenzo. She adds insult to injury by
stealing from her father. Later when Solanio and
Salario are gossiping about Shylock’s reaction to his
loss, they make fun of him and refer to him “as the dog
Jew” (Act 3:1). The loss of Jessica seems to be a
turning point for Shylock who becomes fixated on
getting his bond of a pound of flesh from Antonio.
Shylock explains his reaction by saying, “the villainy
you teach us do we not execute?” (Act 3:1).
The hypocrisy of the Christians is also evident in the
climactic trial in Act 4:1. The Duke and then Portia
repeatedly ask Shylock to show mercy to Antonio.
When he refuses, Portia (dressed as a male lawyer)
then uses the law against Shylock, denying him of his
bond, stripping him of half his estate, forcing him to
convert to Christianity and ensuring Jessica and
Lorenzo gain what remains of his estate when he dies.
It seems that the mercy they expected of Shylock is not
returned. Shylock is left a broken man who is silenced
In summary, Shylock is a victim of constant (and
centuries old persecution). He is spat on, verbally
abused and even has stones thrown at hm. The loss of
his daughter Jessica sparks an almost fanatical need for
revenge. Sadly his poignant plea for tolerance in Act
3:1 where he memorably asks, “If you prick us do we
not bleed?” falls on deaf ears. As history painfully
shows if unchecked the type of anti-Semitism suffered
by Shylock can have horrific consequences. Sufferance
is indeed the badge of his tribe.