Villains, monsters, and others

In Shakespeare's As You Like It and The Merchant of Venice, Duke Frederick and Shylock are, respectively, antagonists who are 'villainized' by the societies they live in. The duke steals the dukedom from his older brother, preferring power over familial bonds. Shylock is a Jewish loan shark with great contempt for the Christians around him, who also hold contempt for him.

Frederick is villain solely due to his own hateful character, primarily his love for power. This is juxtaposed against a backdrop of compassionate and mostly good characters and social values, to which he eventually willingly adheres, thereby extinguishing his villainous side

Shylock is a villain not only because of his character, but also because the Christians hate him for being Jewish and persecute him for it. In this way, he draws compassion from the reader. This is limited, however, due to his own unabashed, detestable nature. He chooses not to change and is forced to become Christian. This symbolizes an extinction of his character as well as a creation of a new one that fits society's ideals. Though accomplished in a completely different manner from Frederick, by the end if he play, Shylock also ceases to be an "other".

In the texts, both characters seem to be ruled by a primary emotion or motive - Shylock by his greed and love for money and Frederick by his love for power. It is interesting to note that both have come by their respective loves in an underhanded ways. Shylock has found affluence through lending money at exorbitant interest rates to those in need and Duke Frederick has unapologetically usurped his brother, Duke Senior, from power and forced him into exile in a forest with a handful of followers. Shylock is introduced in the play as an individual who is always willing to take advantage of a man in need and is adamantly unwilling to respect or recognize the nobility Antonio displays in helping his friend win his true love. His hatred for those around him and monetary greed are so great that upon receiving the news of his daughter's elopement with the Christian Lorenzo, and of being robbed by her he runs in the streets of Venice shouting,

My daughter! O my ducats! O my daughter!
Fled with a Christian! O my Christian ducats!
Justice! the law! my ducats, and my daughter! (2.8)

These lines show that Shylock seems to hold his daughter and his money equally dearly to his heart, which is an abhorrent idea to one who values familial relations over money.

He is portrayed by Shakespeare as someone who has alienated almost everyone he has met. His daughter and servants have a poor opinion of him and speak of him in a disparaging tone. When compared with the character of Antonio, at first glance Shylock appears much more morally inept. Antonio is ready to risk his life to allow his friend to unite with his love whereas Shylock is ready to exact the worst payment while exploiting Antonio in his hour of need; where Antonio is a merchant, associated with what is largely perceived as an honorable profession, Shylock's entire universe revolves around money - the lending and repaying of money, the counting of money, the stashing of money- an unabashed idolatry. The other characters express either their contempt of money, as in the case of Portia and her three caskets, or express their indifference, as in the case of Jessica spending with abandon and exchanging a family heirloom. Shylock willingly gives up dignity, respect and family for the love of money. Other characters' mastery or indifference to money is also juxtaposed to Shylock's love and slavery to it, thereby magnifying it.

Duke Frederick, on the other hand, is saved from the indignity of being a slave to coins by becoming a slave to an arguably higher emotion - the love for power. This coupled with his greed make him shamelessly drive away his own brother into exile and usurp the powers that rightfully belonged to him. In addition, both the characters display an inordinate amount of blind hatred for their respective opponents. Shylock admits many times to his dislike of Antonio. Although he sometimes does give a list of grievances against him, at other times he assumes an obstinate stand by professing that he hates Antonio just because he can:

So can I give no reason, nor I will not,
More than a lodged hate and a certain loathing
I bear Antonio, (4.1)

In this way, Shylock contributes greatly to making himself a villain and an "other". He goes out of his way to push others away, denying them the chance to see him as one of them.

Duke Frederick also expresses his unreasonable dislike of various characters, sometimes based on nothing more than that they have the wrong genes. Even Rosalind, the intelligent, gentle and invaluable companion to his daughter is not safe from his perverse dislike, as she is not trusted simply for being the daughter of his brother. As he says to her:

Thou art thy father's daughter; there's enough (1.3.462)

By hating people for such petty reasons, Frederick, like Shylock, does much to alienate himself from others emotionally and turn them against him.

However, Shylock's case does not hurt him completely. A point of contention among critics has been the treatment meted out to Shylock at the hands of Antonio. Analyzing Antonio's character, it becomes clear that he is not as blameless as appears to some nor Shylock as blamable. Throughout the play many references abound of Antonio misbehaving with Shylock on account of his religion. As Shylock rants against Antonio by pointing out his many sins:

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. (3.1.55-58)

The desire to avenge the wrongs and indignities heaped upon his religion and his nation is, after greed, his strongest characteristic. His hate is directed mainly against those Christians who carry an unrelenting persecution of Jews for no reason other than racism and a dislike of their religion. When at last he gets the chance to have his revenge, he lays great stock by the power of justice and knows that the clause in his contract will withhold any investigation. He is sure of success and awaits it with a malignant glee. It is this very this that stops the reader from truly and fully sympathizing with Shylock despite becoming aware of the indignities he has had to suffer. Their hatred has, in turn, added a hardness to their personalities, making them unlikable. The Duke Frederick displays little positive emotions and even when interacting with his daughter comes across as curt and unaffectionate.

To counteract these cold personas, Shakespeare adds depth to the two characters that divert the reader away from an unchanging hateful perception of them. This depth allows their characters to be portrayed in such a way that shows they have a capacity for humanity and could ultimately change their ways.

Duke Frederick is shown as an admirer of courage and bravery, which are qualities of heroes. This is noted when he says to Orlando:

Thou shouldst have better pleas'd me with this deed,
Hadst thou descended from another house.
But fare thee well; thou art a gallant youth;
I would thou hadst told me of another father. (1.2.336-339)

Despite admiring Orlando, the reader sees that his contempt for his lineage keeps him from appreciating these qualities in him completely.

Compassion for the duke's character also comes to the reader in other ways. At the beginning of the play, he asks Celia and Rosalind to convince Orlando not to fight "In pity of the challenger's youth" (1.2.143-4). This shows that he has the ability to pity and connect with others and that he may not be inherently evil.

Shylock's famous speech also softens his own character by providing testimony of vulnerability and a plea for humane treatment despite differences. If Shylock's character were to rest on this speech alone, he would stand a strong chance of becoming the hero of the play as he displays an appealing side of his personality he has not revealed before. His suffering and pain are voiced as he demands to know the reasons behind the injustices he has suffered. He demands an answer from all those who consider themselves to be an epitome of good conduct and upright principles. Invoking general notions of decency, equality and justice, Shylock points out the glaring holes in the social fabric to which he belongs. The eloquence and heartrending quality of the speech give Antonio's character an entirely different, and negative, dimension altogether - one that causes the reader to see that Shylock has a story that needs to be told. He poignantly says:

Hath not a Jew eyes; hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions...subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer that a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? ... And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge? ...The villainy you teach me I will execute, and it shall go hard but I will better the instruction (3.1.58-73)

Whilst Shylock pleads a convincing case for compassion, this is tainted when he professes a desire for revenge. The entire speech could be applied to himself in that if he wants compassion, he should take the higher road when wronged and show it himself.

Both Shylock and Frederick are also unexpectedly equipped with a more profound understanding of human nature and the ability to recognize advantages that stem from them. Shylock cunningly plots his moves and demands as penalty for failure of payment something that he knows will result in Antonio's death and the removal of his enemy without him being accused and persecuted for murder.

Duke Frederick, on the other hand, shows his perceptive nature by observing Celia and the many disadvantages that result from keeping Rosalind in her company. He points out the benefits that would come to Celia if she stepped out of the shadow of her more well-liked cousin:

She is too subtle for thee; and her smoothness,
Her very silence and her patience,
Speak to the people, and they pity her.
Thou art a fool. She robs thee of thy name;
And thou wilt show more bright and seem more virtuous
When she is gone. (1.3.481-486)

Evidently, being an "other" to those that surround them carries certain advantages. Shylock and Frederick are able to see everyone else from the outside and make observations about the them to which they, as insiders, would be blind.

Ultimately, the two characters are assimilated into society, but for very different reasons. Frederick realizes the evilness within himself and renounces his previous actions. He relinquishes his title of "duke" to its rightful owner, Senior, and decides to adopt a religious life. This occurs while surrounded by the supportive atmosphere provided by the protagonists of the play. This represents a chance for Frederick to mend his ways and become accepted by those around him. In this way, he is able to avert his own tragedy.

Shylock is assimilated into society as well, but this is accomplished through a forcible, unforgiving conversion to Christianity. He is still portrayed antagonistically in that he is relentless in his desire for what he is due, namely a pound of flesh from Antonio. His faith in justice and strict adherence to the letter of the law cause his downfall. The people around him still hold contempt for him and this uncompassionate nature from which he is unwilling to divorce himself. This nature seems to contradict his earlier speech in which he lobbies for the same benevolence he is reluctant to show. The people's hatred, therefore, may be justified. However, converting Shylock to Christianity goes one unnecessary step further. By doing this, they show that they do not simply hate his character, but his religion and seek to humiliate him. In addition they force him to give up his work, taking away his livelihood. To no longer be seen as an "other", Shylock must pay a hefty price in the sum of his identity.

Shylock and Duke Frederick are two antagonistic characters who are seen as villains or "others" by the people who live around them. In Frederick's case, he is driven by a desire for power. He usurps his brother, the rightful duke, and disparages others simply for their blood lines. In this way, his being 'villainized' is all of his own doing. Throughout the play he displays sparks of admirable qualities, which fully come to life at the end, ending the duke's tenure as an "other".

Shylock, on the other hand, is a more complex character. He is a Jew living among Christians, and is hated. He is also a loans hark and is hated more. Therefore, being a villain is not solely his fault. He confronts the people for the injustices he has suffered for being religiously and ethnically different, providing some justification for his hate. However, in being devoid of compassion and hateful to the Christians for their religion, he shows hypocrisy. His status as an "other", then, is upheld by himself and those around him. It is ultimately destroyed, but as he is unwilling to change, his character is destroyed as well. He is now a Christian, just like everyone else. A karma-like effect takes place as Shylock is served the "justice" he sorely wanted. By falling into tragedy through the annihilation of his character, Shylock is made easy to pity.

The paths to assimilation taken by both men are most telling of their futures and of the worlds in which they live. Frederick changes in personality and adopts the values of his fellow people. This shows an importance in sincerity held by his society. Shylock, however, only changes in appearance. Being coerced, he obviously does not believe in Christianity, but the people do not care. All that matters is that he appears to be like everyone else, signifying an importance in putting on a mask and playing the role one is given in society. With regards to the question of anti-Semitism, this point seems to transcend it. It is not merely that Shylock is a Jew, but also that he is so adamant in being different. This poses a threat to a society in which people are expected to act in certain ways, regardless of how they actually are. In converting Shylock, the people show a fear of a general "other", as opposed to a specific fear of Jews.

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