Character Sketch of Shylock in Merchant of Venice

Shylock Merchant of Venice | Merchant of Venice Characters Shylock

Character Sketch of Shylock in Merchant of Venice

Merchant of Venice Workbook Answers


  • a major character, a direct contrast to Antonio
  • clever and crafty
  • adamant and cruel
  • a greedy money lender, revengeful
  • more sinned against than sinning

Shylock – A Major Character
Shylock is a major character in the play. He is a centre of attraction for good or bad reasons. Shylock has been on the whole presented as a monster. At least this is how Christian characters look at him. But later critics have studied him from a different angle, and have rightly concluded that he is a man more sinned against than sinning. If Jew is merciless and spiteful, so are persons like Antonio and Bassanio, and their friends. In our times we cannot but have some sympathy for him.

Shylock is a direct contrast to Antonio in every respect. Antonio is loved by all whereas Shylock is disliked by many and does not have a single friend. His associate, Tubal, goes in search of the runaway Jessica, but on his return, he enjoys relating the acts of his daughter’s extravagance.

Shylock – Clever and Crafty
Shylock is portrayed as a dynamic and clever character. He is cruel, malicious and revengeful. Shakespeare never intended to portray him as a villain. He meant him to be defeated and shattered, but it was necessary first to arouse interest in him before he showed his downfall. He is portrayed as adamant and unyielding. He is unmoved by the appeals of Antonio’s friends and even by the Duke himself.

Shylock is a strong and independent character. We are forced to admire strength in him. Though he is wicked, he retains some sympathy as a strong fighter. He is not given any redeeming qualities to set against his evil but he fights his case in the trial scene brilliantly and boldly.

He is a greedy money lender but he does not reflect the Jewish character in general. Tubal and Jessica are also Jews but they are entirely different from Shylock. He is unusual because he is guided by his love for money. He also nurses a grudge against Antonio who had abused and insulted him in public several times and also because Antonio lends money without interest.

Shylock brings on his downfall by his own acts. Shakespeare has clearly given the reason for his revengeful attitude. He was wronged, hated, insulted, abused and looked down upon by Antonio. All this made him revengeful.

Shylock – More Sinned Against than Sinning
The conflict between Shylock and the other characters comes to a head over the issue of money. They acknowledge that the law is on the side of the Jew but they all expect him to show mercy which he refuses to do. How could he forget the insults and cruel comments made on him? How could he forget the feeling of being treated like a leper by society? How could he forget the fact that his dear daughter, Jessica left him for a Christian? Shylock’s determination to demand the pound of flesh is strengthened by Jessica’s departure.

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