Give any five characteristics of Shylock’s character in MERCHANT OF VENICE by William Shakespear. Analyze each in detail.
Shylock, the Jew in William Shakespeare’s play ‘The Merchant of Venice’ is the most important figure in the play. But critics are divided on their opinion on how to interpret this character — Is he really that bad? Or, Is it the situation that has made him so dogged and cruel?
Anyway, if we were to look at Shylock’s character rather straightforwardly, the first thing one must not miss is his miserly attitude. He has accumulated a lot of money. He still charges high interest by lending his money to make a profit. But still, he does not want to spend his money. He is so obsessed with it that he even dreams of money bags at night. And probably he loves his money more than his daughter. Even we see that Launcelot left his service because of lower pay.
I dreamed of money bags last night.
Another trait in Shylock’s character has been the religious and racial hatred he maintains towards the Christians. I’m not saying that he is the only one to do that or it is only one-sided. Rather, it was the Christians who showed strong hatred and ill-treatment towards his race. But, that does not justify his case.
Nor thrust your head into the public street
To gaze on Christian fools with varnished faces.
But stop my house’s ears—I mean my casements—
Let not the sound of shallow foppery enter
My sober house.
Next comes Shylock’s discontented and angry nature. He is probably never seen happy or laughing in the entire play. Rather ill-treatment and foul words are so deeply associated with his character that he is often treated as a villainous man. He is seen abusing everyone from his daughter Jessica, his servant Launcelot to his Christian rivals Antonio and Bassanio. This is what he says about Lancelot:
…a huge feeder,
Snail-slow in profit, and he sleeps by day
More than the wildcat. Drones hive not with me.
Probably the most important and emphasized characteristic of Shylock is his vindictive and cruel nature — his desire to take revenge at any cost. Even when better solutions are suggested to him, he is not ready to move from his point of revenge against Antonio. He will take his life at any cost as he gets the opportunity. Here are his own words:
To bait fish withal. If it will feed nothing else, it will feed my revenge.
Shylock is also seen to be opportunistic and clever. He drafted the bond so cleverly and made Antonio sign it. Again, when he found that the tables were turned on him, he immediately decided to leave from there without much fuss:
Send the deed after me and I’ll sign it
Finally, Shylock’s lack of wisdom should not be looked over. He is a man rather obsessed with fewer things. He lacks an open mind and a broad heart to live a happy and peaceful life. If he was wise enough, he would have taken twice the bond offered to him. As we see, his obstinate nature made him pay. He lost everything in the end.
On the contrary, I would say, though Shylock has been portrayed as a negative character, he has actually been a sufferer, and victim of the circumstances. He has suffered much in the hands of the Christians just for being a Jew. That is what made him outwardly cruel. We cannot miss moments where the positive sides of his character are visible. May be he actually wanted to befriend Antonio and the likes, but persistent abuse made him so revengeful. His actions were mere reactions.