Friday, 16 August 2013

A Character Sketch of Shylock


Shylock is a fictional character in William Shakespeare's play The Merchant of Venice. Because of the character's notable request of a "pound of flesh" for security interest, individuals considered to charge excessive interest on loans are sometimes called "Shylock." The creation of Shylock is one of the triumphs of Shakespeare’s art of characterization.  He is highly complex nature, and hence most varied and contradictory estimates of his character have been given. Shakespeare has shown the Jew as cruel, savage, relentless, vindictive and greedy, with all the atrocity traditionally associated with the Jewish character; and yet he has succeeded in enlisting our sympathies for him.

His Passion For Money

Passion for revenge and passion for money are the two leading traits of his character. He is a miser who hoards, and for him even to spend a single penny is a torture. He lives for money; money is his life and soul. Money is the standard by which he judges others. His greed has destroyed in him even his affection for his daughter, since his solicitude at his daughter’s loss is as nothing compared with his rage at the loss of his money:

My daughter!—O my ducats!—O my daughter!
Fled with a Christian!—O my Christian ducats.

His Vindictiveness

          Perhaps even stronger than his love of money is his hatred of Antonio as one of the Christians who had persecuted his tribe so cruelly. And one cannot help feeling a natural sympathy with the Jew, a sympathy which Shakespeare evidently felt himself and presumably intended his audience to share. How pathetic these lines of Shylock are:

‘Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, sense, affections, passions? …………. 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? If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that also.’

Here Shylock is not speaking in his own person, but as the representative of an oppressed people. He feels for the suffering of his race. He is both a type and an individual.

Passion For Revenge

Shylock insists that his debt be paid; he wants revenge on Antonio, as the latter loans money without charging interest (thus making Shylock lose business). He had spat on Shylock, verbally and physically abused him, turned his friends against him, and inflamed his enemies toward him.

If I can catch him once upon the hip,
I will feed fat the ancient grudge I bear him
He hates our sacred nation……………

His Essential Humanity And Patriotism

          Shylock has often been represented on the stage as a perfectly unnatural monster, with no passions save those of hate and avarice, and, indeed, there is some cause for such a view. Despite all these unattractive characteristics we cannot say that there are no elements of grandeur about this Jew. He always speaks with a true patriotic fervor about his ‘sacred nation’. He has the true Jewish exclusiveness. There is one passage where even he seems to exhibit a trace of affection and essentially human feelings. When the Tubal has been giving him an account of Jessica’s extravagance in Genoa, that among other things she has exchanged his ring for a monkey, he cries:

Out upon her; thou torturest me; Tubal; it
Was my turquoise: I had it of Leah when
I was bachelor: I would not have given it for
A wilderness of monkeys.

          Nevertheless, it must be confessed that, as far as the play goes, we do not hear much of the human side of his nature.