The plot of the play is that Bassanio wants to borrow money so he goes with Antonio to Shylock who is a wealthy Jewish business man, even though they call him a dog and mock his Jewish ways Shylock offers him a bond, Shylock says that if he doesnt pay he will take a pound of Antonios flesh, he says this and Antonio and Bassanio believe he is only joking, Even though Antonio is racist towards him he still lends him the money. The play is a mixture of love greed and revenge. I would define a “victim” as someone who is on the receiving end of abuse; this could be physical or verbal. The victim may or may not contribute to there victimisation for example someone could be victimised for their physical appearance which they have no control over and have not contributed to, or someone could be victimised because of their actions which they have control over and have contributed to. In Shakespeares time it would have been classed as the norm to be racist towards the Jews and the people watching the Merchant of Venice would have cheered when shylock was treated badly for example in act 3 scene 1 Solanio says “lest the devil cross my prayer, for here he comes now in the likeness of a Jew” this is aimed at shylock and they are calling him the devil, the crowd would most probably laughed at this in Shakespeares time and would have found it very amusing, they will not have seen shylock as a victim but as a villain who hated all Christians. Christians would use excuses like the Jews killed Jesus as a reason to hate them but really most Christians hate Jews because they where envious of them because they where usually very religious and where allowed to practice usury in their religion whereas Christians where not and therefore Christians usually owed them money, also the Jewish are usually very well educated this is a few reasons why Christians sometimes hated them.
Nowadays we would see this play as very racist towards the Jews people because times have changed and people think differently, people are more aware of people as individuals and not just as a member of a group even though racism still exists today. There is a long history of the persecution of the Jews for example the holocaust where Hitler carried out ethnic cleansing against the Jews and many other religions and groups of people, he killed some 6 million Jews just because they where different. Another example is what happened in Britain 700 years ago where the Jews where killed and expelled from Britain. We only know a bit about shylocks past history, but we do know that there was a woman in his life, this could have been his wife as it seems he was very close to her but she died, we know this because his most prized possession was a ring that he gave to her in Frankfurt but this was stolen by his daughter and traded for a monkey. He is Jewish so all his life he would have suffered racial abuse so this could have made him very vengeful towards Antonio as he is a Christian, when Shylock finds out that Antonio is going bankrupt and he says “I thank God I thank God” and he decides to kick him when he is down and take revenge for all the times Antonio has wronged him, Shylock says ” He hath disgraced me and hindered me half a million” meaning Antonio has gone out of his way so that Shylock lost half a million ducats. Shylock is showing a very nasty side to himself in this scene and he is on a roller coaster of emotions, first he is unhappy about his daughter then he finds out about Antonio and he cheers up.
We dont really know much about Antonios past history but we do know he is a wealthy merchant in the city of Venice. Antonio is portrayed by Shakespeare as an outcast and does not get involved in the social atmosphere that is thriving in Venice. We think he has never been married or has ever wanted to, in act 1 scene 1 when solanio says “Why then you are in love” Antonio replies with “Fie, Fie” meaning nonsense. Shylock must not have had a very good relationship with his daughter for her to run off with all his money. It is understandable for his daughter to run away from shylock because she is in love with a Christian, but for her to run away with all his money shylock must not have had a very good relationship with her, she swapped his most cherished possession, a ring that Shylock gave to Jessica mother in Frankfurt for a monkey. This is very nasty and deliberate and just shows she wanted to hurt Shylock.
From reading the text we can see that shylock was keeping Jessica as a prisoner in her own house, by not letting her out and not letting her hear the Christian music around her he says to her “Lock up my doors; and when you hear the drum. But stop my house’s ears-I mean casements. Let not the sound of shallow fop p ” ry enter my sober house.” Jessica hates the way Shylock treats her and calls Shylock Satan. Shylock does not love his daughter enough and he even complains when he has to pay someone to find her so he can get his money back.
Antonio does not seem to have much family but he treats Bassanio like he is part of his family as far as we see in the play he is the closest thing to a family for Antonio and Antonio seems like a very lonely businessman. Shylock does not seem to have any friends as he treats everyone as if he was superior to them, he has pushed all his friends away by treating them bad and even his daughter has left him, he treated Lancelot bad by talking behind his back about his laziness “The patch is kind enough, but a huge feeder, Snail-slow in profit, and he sleeps by day More than the wildcat. Drones hive not with me… His borrowed purse.” Antonio seems bitter and finds it difficult expressing his emotions at first, but he seems to like Bassanio very much, and he even lets him use his name to get credit even when he owes Antonio money. Antonio seems to like Bassanio differently to his other friends and he seems to love him and want to see no harm done to him. Antonio has lots of friends as you can see at the beginning of the play when they are all concerned about him and this gives the impression that he must be likeable for him to have friends but his friends could just be pretending to like him for his money and this could be why he feels he cant confide in them and tell them what is upsetting him so much.
Shylock is a very powerful businessman and he feels himself superior to anyone else especially Christians, he is a very greedy man using the bible as a source of interest to collect more money, Antonio says “Mark you this, Bassanio, The devil can cite scripture for his purpose. An evil sole, producing holy witness, is like a villain with a smiling cheek, a goodly apple rotten at the heart.” Shylock likes to think he is a very powerful man and he is obsessed with power and money. Antonio seems to be a very powerful merchant but is not as greedy as Shylock Antonio is generous and is willing to pay back Thrice the loan to Shylock. Antonio is a kind and generous man but he agrees to the pound of flesh deal being very naive that his ships will return safely. Antonio is very powerful in the community as he can easily get credit when he wants it even though he does not like to use it he says “Shylock, albeit I neither lend nor borrow” and then he says “Yet, to supply the ripe wants of my friend, ill break a custom.” here Antonio is showing that he is a very generous and kind man and although at first he may have seemed hard I think that he is a very good man and cares very much about other people especially Bassanio. Antonio also suggest that men may look perfect, but deep inside, they acquire negative characteristics.
I think that Shylocks religion does not affect his behaviour very much at all I think he just uses it to make money and he hides behind it, although he thinks his religion is the superior one and that anyone who thinks different is inferior to him. Although he is subject to racial abuse because of his beliefs this could affect him and therefore showing that his religion has affected his behaviour because he will think differently about other religions and stereotype them saying that they all hate him because he is Jewish. I think that religion has affected Antonio and he also feels that his religion is superior to others he says “The Hebrew will turn Christian; he grows kind.” I think he says this because he thinks that no Jews are kind and that he thinks that because Shylock Is being kind then he must be turning into a Christian, this is evidence that Antonio thinks that Christianity is superior to any other religion. Because Shylock is a Jew he is treated very bad he is kicked and called a dog and many times he is referred to as the devil, although Shylock seems to just let this go over his head he would not like this because he is a very religious person and he would not like to be referred to as the Devil. Because of the way Shylock is treated all through his life he has become very vengeful and he is very stereotypical towards Antonio and other Christians he blames all of them for his races problems even though it may not be all Christians that are racist towards the Jews and he says Christians have persecuted his race when he says “To bait fish withal. If it will feed nothing else, it will feed my revenge…
The villainy you teach me I will execute, and it shall go hard but I will better the instruction.” Shylock gets worse and he takes Antonio to court over his bond, this is showing that Shylock is the true villain of the play even though he is subjected to racism all his life these actions show that Shylock really is the villain in the play. Shylock mistreats Antonio because he is Christian, Shylock does not even know Antonio but as soon as he sees him he assumes that he is bad just because he is a Christian, Shylock says, “How like a fawning publican he looks! I hate him because he is Christian” Shylock is stereotyping Antonio just because he is Christian and even though Shylock thinks he is the one who is on the receiving end of racism he is also giving it out. I think religion has affected the way people treat Antonio because he is hated by shylock simply because he is a Christian, Shylock does not even give Antonio a chance and judges him on the little bit about him that he knows, I think he has a lot of Christian friends and that they certainly would not be friends with him if he was not a Christian. I think both Shylock and Antonio are treated like they are inferior simple because they are a member of one religion, this still goes on today and people are fighting just because there beliefs are different. I feel that Shylock is most definitely the villain of “The Merchant of Venice” he goes to far when he takes Antonio to court he mistreats to many people and the asks for mercy in court, although sometimes he may have been ganged up on by Christians in court and throughout the play he should not have gone so far, he could have just walked away with a lot more money but instead he tries to use Antonio as a scapegoat for his revenge, he should not have done this and even though he has been subjected to anti-Semitism all his life it is no excuse for attempting to take another mans life.