Does Shylock deserve his punishment?

2423 Words Feb 12th, 2014 10 Pages
“There is no doubt that Shylock is a cunning and vengeful man, but nothing can justify the treatment he receives at the hands of the Christians.”
How far do you agree with this statement? Does Shylock deserve his punishment?

Shylock is punished by the Venetian court for seeking to end Antonio’s life. He is charged under a Venetian law (of Shakespeare’s creation) and he is forced to give up his wealth and to beg the Duke to spare him his life. Viewed like this it seems simple enough; Shylock broke a Venetian law and, as a consequence, is punished. However, Shylock’s case is far from simple. Antonio’s demand that Shylock should renounce his Judaism and become a Christian and his insistence that Shylock should will his money to the Christian
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It is ironic that Jessica’s actions should prove to be the catalyst that hardens Shylock’s attitude towards Antonio; she has turned Christian just as Antonio believed that Shylock’s bond turned him Christian.

Despite the characteristics that we cannot admire, in Act Three Shylock is at his most passionate and eloquent in a piece of unrehearsed prose prompted by yet more goading from Salerino and Solanio. The fundamental questions he poses are rhetorical – they require no answers. He sets out, forcefully and incontrovertibly, facts so basic about human existence that they would make even the most hardened racist think twice.

Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? Fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer as a Christian is?9

It is a universal message, as relevant today as it was 406 years ago, when the play was first performed. However, as mentioned before, Shylock is not a two dimensional character, he is no more simply a champion of civil rights than he is simply a barbarous parasite. One of his next lines confirms his nastier side: and if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?10 Shylock’s grief, anger and hatred are more powerful than his compassion and he resolves to have his revenge. A word of
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