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The Merchant of Venice Critical Evaluation Jamie Menzies In The Merchant of Venice, a problem play by William Shakespeare, the

main character Shylock is portrayed as being an evil and violent individual. As the play develops, the reader acquires sympathy for the complicated character who emerges from the two-dimensional villain who is seen at the beginning of the play. I believe that Shylock, at the end of the play, is more sinned against than sinning. I intend to explore this by analysing Shylocks behaviour due to the way he is racially abused and discriminated against. In scene three of act one, when Shylock is introduced to the reader, he speaks of the hatred of Jews in Venice. He describes, to Antonio, their image, and the way people act towards them: Say this: Fair sir, you spat on me Wednesday last, You spurned me such a day, another time You called me a dog This generates sympathy towards Shylock from the reader as there is prejudice against him from almost everyone around. This is the first point in the play where we first see heightened emotion from Shylock and start to perceive him as a more threedimensional character. Another point in the play which shows Shylock as being more sinned against than sinning is in the first scene of act three. Shylock speaks intensely of Christians and Jews common humanity. He gives a hard-hitting description of intolerance to Jews and how he is singled out from others. He declares at the beginning of his third important speech in the play: I am a Jew. This statement has great impact as it clearly signifies that Shylock is singled-out and is blaming his religion for his social rank and his current situation with business. He continues passionately, negotiating with Salerio: Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? Shylock is trying to explain that Jews are just the same as everyone else, and that is just their religion which creates a barrier between them and the Christians of Venice, as all of the things he lists are common to followers of both religions. Further on in this speech, more sympathy for Shylock is created, again showing he is more sinned against than sinning: If a Jew wrong a Christian, what is his humility? Revenge. If a Christian wrong a Jew, what should his sufferance be by Christian example? Why, revenge. This text is a retaliation by Shylock; he explains that if a Jew were to offend a Christian the Christian would claim revenge, but if a Christian were to offend a Jew, the Jew should take revenge. If a Jew did take revenge though, he would be perceived as wrong. This clearly denotes unfair treatment of Jews because they are reprimanded for doing things a Christian would be allowed to do. Still analysing this speech, in the first scene of act three, a further reference to Shylock being more sinned against than sinning is the fact that this speech is written in prose. Prose is used by all characters in Shakespeare, but tends to be used by

uneducated characters, or those with lower ranks. At the beginning of the play, Shylock speaks in verse but, as the depth and complexity grows, and we start to see a softer side to Shylock, he speaks in verse. This may signify a lack of self esteem from Shylock, perceiving him as having lower status due to his religion. A final reference to Shylock being more sinned against than sinning is towards the end of the play, in scene one of act four. After Shylocks plan fails and he is punished by having to give away all his possessions. He says, when his sentence is pronounced: You take my life when you do take the means by where I live. This signifies that Shylock has nothing left, all his possessions are gone, his daughter has fled with a Christian and he can no longer do his job. To the reader, it seems that all the wrong things have happened at the wrong time for Shylock, and this punishment is harsher than is necessary for the deeds he committed. At the end of the scene, Shylock quietly leaves, probably to die as he has nothing else to live for. In summary, Shylock is indeed more sinned against than sinning. Although he was willing to commit inhumane acts to satisfy the needs of a bond, it seems as though Shylocks life was in turmoil, and everything was happening at the wrong time for Shylock. I believe that the punishment was unfair and Shylock didnt deserve such cruel treatment at the end of the play.