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Skylock’s Defence Essay, Research Paper

In the play the Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare, the

character Shylock?s portrayal changes a great deal. This man?s image goes from

that of a cruel and evil murder to a pitiful and helpless beggar of mercy.

These circumstances raise the question of what kind of man Shylock truly is,

and whether or not the reader should feel pity for him. There is no doubt that

Shylock is a man with faults, but there is evidence to suggest that his

intentions though cruel and heartless are the result of years of unjust

provocation on the part of Antonio.

Shylock reveals a very dark side of himself once he has Antonio at his

mercy. Out of context, Shylock?s actions would be perceived by most people to

be savagely unmerciful. Shylock refuses twice the bond which is owed to him by

Antonio, and upon seeing his determination to have Antonio?s life, the Duke

asks him ?How shalt thou hope for mercy, rendering none?? (IV,I, 88) Shylock?s

response to this is ?What judgment shall I fear, doing no wrong??. (IV, I, 89)

In this he is clearly saying that he believes his actions to be completely

justified. In order to make a reasonable argument on Shylock?s behalf, a reader

must see this exchange as more than the simple collection of a debt.

There is a bitter past and a history of problems between Shylock and

Antonio. Some of these problems become clear to the reader when Shylock states

to the reader: How like a fawning publican he looks!

I hate him for he is a Christian,But more for that in low simplicity

He lends out money gratis and brings down

the rate of usance here with us in Venice.If I catch him once upon the hip,

I will feed the fat that ancient grudge I bear him.

He hates our sacred nation, and he rails,

Even there where merchants most do congregate,

on me, my bargains, and my well won-thrift.

Which he calls interest. Cursed be my tribeIf I forgive him! (I,III,38-49)

In other words he is accusing Antonio of being a vicious anti Semite whose

practice of loaning interest free money is a great threat to his livelihood.

This quote indicates that Shylock?s motives against Antonio stem both from a

desire to gain personal revenge as well as revenge for the injustices of

Christians suffered by the Jewish people.

Clearly Antonio and Shylock?s relationship is not on the best of terms

when Antonio comes to Shylock with a request for a loan of 3,000 ducats. In

response to this request, Shylock replies:

You call me misbeliever, cutthroat dog,And spit upon my Jewish gaberdine,

And all for use of that which is mine own.

Well then, it now appears you need my help. (I,III,109-112)He goes on to say:

?Fair sir, you spit on me on Wednesday last ,

You spurned me on such a day, another time

You call me dog, and for these courtesies

I?ll lend you thus much money?? (I,III,124-127)

One would think that Shylock is at this point able to look past these

humiliating acts that Antonio had committed against him, and is willing to lent

him a helping hand in his time in need, but rather than accept this help as a

generous offering, Antonio replies:I am as like to call thee so again,

To spit on thee again, to spurn thee again.

If thou wilt lend this money, lend it not

As to thy friends, for when did friendship take

A breed for barren metal of his friend?But it rather to thine enemy,

Who if he break, thou mayest with better face Exact the penalty.

This is a very clear case of provocation. Antonio knows exactly the risk he is

taking, and rather than attempt to foster any kind of peace with Shylock, he

embraces hate and encourages Shylock to do the same. Under these circumstances

it would take a very pious man to offer Antonio mercy. Shylock?s inability to

find this mercy for Antonio becomes forgivable. As a result Shylock becomes a

man whom the audience sympathizes with at the end of the play.

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