Shylock: Villain or Victim?

The Merchant of Venice.  By Shakespeare 

One of the strongest themes in William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice is revenge. Shylock is a greedy Jewish moneylender who has been insulted, spit on, harassed, and made to suffer financial loss at the hands of Christians. To further strengthen his hatred of Christians, one has interloped with his daughter and a large amount of his money. Antonio has crossed him repeatedly in the past and takes the brunt of this animosity. Shylock finally seizes an opportunity to punish his adversary and collect the interest on a loan contract as “…an equal pound of your fair flesh, to be cut off and taken in what part of your body pleaseth me” (Shakespeare 1.3.150-152). Shylock is determined to exact his revenge by collecting his debt which will result in Antonio’s death. However, his obsession with revenge leads him to his own peril and detriment.

The plot twists as one revenge results in another. Portia in the guise of a lawyer has pleaded with and warned Shylock of his folly. She then uses the law to save Antonio and take revenge on Shylock. Shylock is guilty of attempted murder and so must forfeit his life and fortune. Although his life is spared, he is cruelly forced to become a Christian, the thing he hates most. In this way, the Christians’ revenge on Shylock is just as heinous as his own.

I believe that Shakespeare was trying to show how revenge is a fruitless endeavor that leads only to your own destruction. Revenge becomes an obsession that clouds judgment. To express this more clearly, Douglas Horton once said, “While seeking revenge, dig two graves – one for yourself.”