This series on Shakespeare’s villains is being done in partnership with Finding Shakespeare – curating digital stories relating to Shakespeare’s life, work and times. Finding Shakespeare is produced by the Collections Team here at The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust– you can find out more about Shylock on Thursday 23rd when they post their blog.
Shylock, a Jewish money lender, has made a bond with Antonio a Christian merchant for the loan of 3,000 ducats. The bond stipulates that should the money not be repaid by a certain date then Shylock is entitled to a pound of Antonio’s flesh as recompense. The money is not repaid by the due date and shylock wants his pound of flesh – if you were Shylock wouldn’t you?
No? Are you sure?
Wouldn’t you be more than a little annoyed with a man who, alongside his friends has cooled your friends, disrupted your business and spat upon you in the street? For what reason? Because you are Jew and he a Christian. Have you ever been bullied? Has anyone ever said something unreasonable to you simply because they didn’t like you, your attitudes, your beliefs or you face? Didn’t you want revenge – just a little bit? But perhaps you wouldn’t sharpen the knife yourself to get it – you would prefer that it just happened – we want revenge but we would prefer to keep our own hands clean where Shylock is willing to get his dirty.
Wouldn’t you be upset if your daughter had eloped with one of Antonio’s Christian friends not only throwing over her cultural heritage but taking with her your treasured possessions? A ring that you discover she used to buy a pet monkey, which you had from your wife before you were married and ‘would not have given for a wilderness of monkeys’? When you have lost something to someone don’t you want revenge? Ok perhaps you wouldn’t kill for it, but perhaps you would like to cause someone a little bit of suffering? And in the end of course Shylock does not kill Antonio (we never really know whether he would or could have done so) he only enjoys seeing Antonio and Bassano suffer. In his place wouldn’t you?
Shylock is then offered the money and more and still he would rather take the pound of flesh and with it Antonio’s life – why? Because he explains “It will feed my revenge”. Shylock would rather not be paid off – instead it is the emotional side which wants the satisfaction of revenge not the practical or greedy side that desires money – isn’t that actually very realistic? Who has not been annoyed by a timely apology which you grudgingly accept because it leaves you nowhere to place your feelings of anger over the original insult?
So you would not behave like Shylock? Perhaps not, but I expect you understand on some level why he does…. Lets see what our staff and volunteers think…
If you want to see how Shylock has been represented in plays over the years have a look at this slide show and don’t forget to check out Finding Shakespeare on Thursday 23rd June and after.