I believe Shylock is one of the more interesting characters created from William Shakespeare and The Merchant of Venice one of my favorite plays. Have you seen the 2004 film version starring Al Pacino, Jeremy Irons, Joseph Fiennes, and Lynn Collins? Directed and adapted by Michael Radford, I consider this one of Al Pacino’s best acting performances.
I’m intrigued with the character Shylock because he is a perfect example of the dynamic character. He’s an unsavory, complicated man. You appreciate his cleverness while disliking his actions. He’s a character who is misunderstood and abused by Christian society. He’s reckless and selfish but encompasses strength of conviction. You find yourself admiring his fearlessness while cringing at his harsh need for control. His passion is money and control and vengeance. Shylock is Jewish, and this is what turns the man from victim into villain.
Shylock is destroyed by the society that surrounds him. Society creates a monster and the monster attacks. How many times throughout the play was Shylock referenced as an evil soul, cut-throat dog, cruel devil, inhuman wretch, fiend, and bloody creditor? Those definers establish Shylock as a scoundrel and an antagonist. Shylock’s antagonist was Antonio portrayed by Jeremy Irons. To Shylock, Antonio represents all Christians. When Shylock demands a pound of his flesh for payment of a loan, it is a legal request in 1600s, yet morally cruel.
However, is the payment crueller than the segregation and degradation upon the Jews in Venice? It is possible to see the human frailty of this angry character. He loses his daughter Jessica to the Christian named Lorenzo. She steals Shylock’s jewels and money and runs away, betraying her father. Shylock was a stern, over-protective parent and one could sympathize with Jessica for running away, but did she have to do it with a Christian and involve herself in a plot to destroy Shylock? Everyone is against him. Wouldn’t we all explode after enduring so many indiscretions?
The language of Shylock is great and cultivates his character. Shylock’s use of repetition creates dramatic tension and elucidate his wit. For example, in Act 1 Scene 3, he repeats: “three thousand ducats, well”; “For three months, well”; ‘Antonio shall become bound, well”; “Three thousand ducats for three months, and Antonio bound”. At other points in the play, his repetition reveals other aspects of his personality. For instance, he shows his enthusiasm when he praises the disguised Portia in court when Shylock thinks she will grant him his bond, Shylock repeats, “O wise young judge, O noble judge”. In agony, Shylock repeats, “My daughter, O my ducats!” Finally, when he demands his money from Antonio he repeats, “I will have my bond!”
These repetitions add to his character because they are annoying for others to hear, and they show his emotional state. If you are a fan of Al Pacino and want to see him act exceptionally well along with a top-rate cast and intelligent script, I highly recommend you rent and watch this.