English Literature » Notes » Merchant of Venice: Shylock More Sinned Against Than Sinning
Shylock in Merchant of Venice

Merchant of Venice: Shylock More Sinned Against Than Sinning

Many different views can be taken on the Jewish merchant Shylock in the play ‘The Merchant of Venice’ written by William Shakespeare. Although when taking into account the many trials and tribulations that Shylock had to endure, it is forthcoming to say that Shylock was more sinned against than sinning. There are key and defining moments in this play when it becomes more apparent as to why Shylock is acting out against Antonio. From early on when Antonio goes to Shylock, the audience is notified of the distaste Antonio has for Shylock.

On top of this, the treatment of him after he loses his daughter to the one thing he hates more than Antonio, his beliefs, coupled with the manner in which he was forced to become a Christian and join those who continually oppressed him is enough evidence to suggest he was more sinned against. Yet this journey of Shylock’s fall all began with Antonio who through his mistreatment of Shylock spurred him on to rebel against the Christians by seeking revenge on Antonio. Hate is a strong motivation. A force that at the worst of times is as strong as any other humanly passion; love, anger and rage.

Yet hate is not simply inexplicable and solitary. It is a potent and dangerous concoction of emotions that easily consumes those who use it. Hating someone can be seen as sinning against them, because irrespective of what that person does, this bottomless pit of hate continues to burn deep within. This passion is highlighted throughout the ‘Merchant of Venice. ’ From early on, he audience is made aware of the hostile relationship between Antonio and his merchant enemy; Shylock. From their first encounter in the play, when Bassanio is in need of the ducats, Antonio implies many things.

Shylock is seeking Antonio’s respect or mere acknowledgement as an equal. He tells Antonio of the story of the sheep and Jacob’s profit. Antonio quickly warns Bassanio, ‘the devil can cite scriptures for his purpose. ’ This is a very strong and direct accusation and while Shylock pretends to not be hurt, he is. A man that he would have once looked up to before he was continually oppressed. He is essentially accusing him of being like a devil, if not the devil himself; and that is soulless and selfish.

He has been pigeon holed for his entire existence and left with no choice except to take it on the chin. Furthermore, it is latter made known that these two merchants have a history with Shylock showing his deep hurt when he tells Antonio, ‘in the Rialto you rated me…. i borne it with a patient shrug, you call me a misbeliever, cutthroat dog, and spet on me. ’ While it was the norm to dislike the Jews, this explicit treatment of Shylock accompanied with Antonio telling him, ‘I am as like to thee so again. For Antonio to tell Shylock this shows that there is a clear discontent towards him. Although Shylock is trying to justify why he should give Antonio the money, and after all this, he still lends him the money. Shylock is more vulnerable for he is a Jew, and his decision to include ‘a pound of flesh’ into the bond is not for his revenge, it was merely an insurance policy. How could he know that Antonio’s ventures will all fail. Yet to him, it put his heart at rest, because now he had something, and though it was not much, it was still more than he’s ever had against the Christians.

Somehow what seemed like a simple exchange has escalated to a point of no return, their hate has risen to the surface, yet what throws Shylock over the edge is when he loses Jessica. While Shylock’s hate for Antonio is strong, his hate for the Christians is ten fold, for it was the Christians who did this to him. His persecution was because he was a Jew. His actions can be further explained as a coping mechanism when taking into consideration how his only daughter Jessica was taken from him. She kept him grounded, she cared for her more than his ducats, yet she left with her body and his ducats.

This would have cut deep, especially has he lost her to the Christians. He was constantly trying to protect her from what the persecution he was forced to experience, and now she has converted and become one of them. In his eyes every Christian is like Antonio, he does not sympothise. It is well known that he is hurt, for he is also human. He even says ‘Oh my breathing, no tears Oh my shedding. ’ To deal with this constant throbbing that rattles his core and then have the people mock him and laugh at him as is to gloat. It is a constant battle, and he is a one man army.

He is quick to blame Salarino, the closest person around saying ‘you knew. ’ Salarino sarcastically admits that he did saying, ‘that’s certain. I for, my part knew the tailor that made the wings she flew withal. ’ Their inability to sympathise or even minutely respect him coupled with the fact that they consider themselves superior is a part of why he felt the urge to seek revenge. They were constantly sinning against him. Before he was angry, although is has escalated to the point where now he seeks retribution. While the masses were so eager to see him fail, now he is eager to see Antonio fail.

For Antonio is a reflection and representation of the people of Venice. This is why Shylock is pleased to hear of Antonio’s misfortunes. Although his whole motive is explained when he likens himself to a Christian. Yet by putting himself on the same level as them he informs them, ‘the villainy you teach me I will execute, and it shall go hard but I will better the instruction. ’ This urge to revenge has only been brought on by the people of Venice who constantly sinned against him. This further proven when his attempt to revenge fails.

He is forced to adopt the principle ‘if you can’t beat them, joint them. ’ While his quest for revenge may seem like he is sinning more than being sinned against, it is indisputable that he is more sinned against when he is handed his punishment. Even in triumph he loses. From the beginning the Duke is against him saying Shylock is a ‘strong adversary, an inhuman wretch incapable of pity, void and empty from any dram of mercy. ’ Yet this is exactly how the Christians have treated Shylock, is it a sin to do unto others as they do unto you?

Shylock chose to follow through with the pound of flesh because he knew that if he was at the mercy of a Christian or Antonio, they would not be merciful. Had Shylock been able to follow through with the pound of flesh, few would have been sympathetic towards him, although there is a clear line of separation. Some want Shylock to succeed and those who don’t, quickly wish he did when they see how torn he is after failing. They did not just take away his near success but they tore strips off him. He had the upper hand on that whole court room and now he is forced to separate with his ducats and beliefs.

His ducats gave him a sense of self worth and he finds himself in the same predicament. When Portia who is disguised tells him to ‘down, therefore, and beg mercy of the Duke. ’ Yet even if he does, it is to no avail. They could not simply leave him be and acknowledge that they did this to him. They were compelled to not quickly kill him but rather punish him for the rest of his life. His money and sense of worth were quickly diminished. Even he pleads, ‘take my life and all…. you take my life when you do take the means whereby I live. ’ They have taken his whole life away.

Not only does he have to give his money to Antonio and his daughter who without a thought left him. He is forced to become a Christian on Antonio’s request. Antonio knows that this is the one thing Shylock believed could not be taken from him. Yet once again he is proved wrong by the people who directly sin against him. Taking all this into account, it is crystal clear that Shylock was more sinned against than sinning. They hurt him, and brought him endless pain and misery. It was this deep sense of pain and hurt that fueled his deep sense of hate and revenge.

Antonio, never showed and ounce of remorse, in conjuction with losing his daughter was a catalyst for his sudden urge to terminate the sin he is constantly facing. They tore strips off his identity, his being, what he was and who is was is now gone. The people of Venice were shocked at who he was, yet it was their mistreatment which made him that way. He was and is the product of all the sin he encountered. He was forever alone, forever living in fear, forever living in doubt and forever burdened. And now he is forever sinned against for he is forever a Christian as forced upon by the Christians themselves