Shakespeare's Shylock: Character Sketch, Analysis & Monologue

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  • 0:02 Who Is Shylock?
  • 2:12 The Loan
  • 2:56 Antonio's Bad Luck
  • 3:35 Shylock's Justification
  • 6:13 Character Analysis
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Debbie Notari
In Shakespeare's 'The Merchant of Venice,' Shylock is a stereotyped Jewish merchant who is bent on revenge. In this lesson, you'll have the chance to hear some of Shylock's monologues, which provide clues to his character and the unusual bargain he strikes with a fellow merchant.

Who is Shylock?

Shylock is one of the main characters in William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, a Jewish merchant living in a predominantly Christian environment. As the merchant, he exemplifies many negative character traits that we abhor in others and in ourselves: greed, jealousy and vengeance. Shylock's life revolves around money. In fact, he has a reputation for charging too much interest on loans.

We can find clues to Shylock's tragic character through his monologues, which reveal his innermost thoughts. A monologue is a speech an actor or comedian gives to an audience. For example, Shylock shows his true colors in this monologue in Act I of The Merchant of Venice, as he describes his enemy Antonio, a rival merchant:

'How like a fawning publican he looks!
I hate him for he is a Christian,
But more for that in low simplicity
He lends out money gratis and brings down
The rate of usance here with us in Venice.
If I can catch him once upon the hip,
I will feed fat the ancient grudge I bear him.
He hates our sacred nation, and he rails,
Even there where merchants most do congregate,
On me, my bargains and my well-won thrift,
Which he calls interest. Cursed be my tribe,
If I forgive him!'

In this monologue, Shylock reveals his resentment toward Antonio. First, he states that he hates Antonio for his religious beliefs, or simply because he is not Jewish. Shylock also hates Antonio because he is honest: Antonio doesn't lend money at interest. As a result, fewer people borrow from Shylock, who does charge interest. Shylock hopes to entrap Antonio when Bassanio, Antonio's best friend, asks Shylock for a loan that Antonio guarantees.

Shylock accuses Antonio of hating Jews, and there is some evidence that Antonio does discriminate. Antonio has made it clear that he dislikes the way Shylock does business. Shylock swears he will not forgive Antonio for his actions.

The Loan

Antonio's best friend, Bassanio, needs money to win the hand of the beautiful Portia, a wealthy heiress. Antonio's money is tied up in his merchant ships abroad, so he cannot give his friend any money. Shylock agrees to loan Bassanio 3,000 ducats, or gold coins, for three months, but requires Antonio to sign a notarized agreement. If the loan is not paid on time, Shylock will cut off a pound of Antonio's flesh. Antonio must not feel too worried, because he signs the agreement. Most of us are familiar with the practices of loan sharks, but Shylock takes it even further! He seriously intends to cut off a pound of Antonio's flesh should he default on the loan.

Antonio's Bad Luck

As the story progresses, Antonio's ships are lost at sea, leaving him unable to pay the debt. In the meantime, Bassanio succeeds in winning Portia's hand, partially by passing a test her father devised for her suitors.

When Bassanio finds out about Antonio's hard luck, Portia gives him 6,000 ducats to pay off the loan and save Antonio's life. However, Shylock is far more interested in revenge than money. When his own daughter, Jessica, runs off with a Christian named Lorenzo, Shylock is only concerned about the money and jewels she takes with her, and not her safety.

Shylock's Justification

Shylock shows the depth of his resentment toward Antonio in this monologue from Act 3, when Salarino, a fellow merchant, asks him why he would want a pound of flesh from Antonio. Shylock says:

'To bait fish withal: if it will feed nothing else,
it will feed my revenge. He hath disgraced me, and
hindered me half a million; laughed at my losses,
mocked at my gains, scorned my nation, thwarted my
bargains, cooled my friends, heated mine
enemies; and what's his reason? I am a Jew. 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? If you prick us, do we not bleed?
If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison
us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not
revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will
resemble you in that. If a Jew wrong a Christian,
what is his humility? Revenge. If a Christian
wrong a Jew, what should his sufferance be by
Christian example? Why, revenge. The villany you
teach me, I will execute, and it shall go hard but I
will better the instruction.'

In his heart of hearts, Shylock believes that Antonio hates him because he is Jewish. Whenever his business deals fail and Antonio's prosper, Shylock becomes more and more obsessed with revenge. In his monologue, Shylock continues to plead for equality, saying that Jews have eyes, organs and senses and are capable of love. Poignantly, he asks: 'If you prick us, do we not bleed?'

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