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Discuss how Shylock is marginalised by referring to the

dialogue and actions of two characters in the drama.

In The Merchant of Venice Shylock is isolated in the social and trade worlds of

Venice because he is a foreigner and a Jew and through the means of various

actions and word choices of different characters such as Antonio and Portia.

Therefore this essay will explain how the actions and word choice of Antonio and

Portia towards Shylock is utilised to emphasise Shylock’s alienation in society. Firstly

the author will explain Antonio’s word choice and actions against Shylock,

respectively. Secondly the author will explain Portia’s word choice against Shylock.

Finally the author will conclude this essay with a short synopsis of the essay and

how it links to the thesis statement.

“ANTONIO: Mark you this, Bassanio,


The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose.
An evil soul producing holy witness
Is like a villain with a smiling cheek,
A goodly apple rotten at the heart.
O what a goodly outside falsehood hath!”
(I, iii, 89-94)

These are the words Antonio uses to describe Shylock as the devil and a villain, just

one of many examples of Antonio’s accusations against Shylock to estrange him

from the civilization. Antonio also has called Shylock a stray dog in the past – Act 1,

scene iii, lines 98-121. According to Act IV, scene I, lines 70-83, Antonio stresses

how fixed and persistent Shylock is and that it’s useless to try and reason with him,

and thus demonstrates what judgements Antonio makes against Shylock which also

refers to a way Antonio marginalises Shylock. It’s not just Antonio’s choice of words

but also his way of speaking towards Shylock that indicates his disrepute for

Shylock, for example Antonio uses a sarcastic tone to express the disrespect against

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Shylock and his Jewishness in Act I, scene iii, lines 170-171 as suggested by Cohen

(1980: 55).

Alongside Antonio’s word choice and manner of speaking, is the actions Antonio

reveals towards Shylock that also shows how Antonio disregards Shylock. Antonio

has spat on Shylock in the public once before and also humiliated him many times

on the Rialto Bridge, which is a great example of Antonio’s way of banishing Shylock

from the community, this argument is supported in Act I, scene iii, lines 98-121. The

lines 122-123, “I am as like to call thee so again, to spit on thee again, to spurn thee

too.” confirms the argument of Miller (2011) that “Antonio is completely remorseless

about his treatment of Shylock and warns that he is likely to repeat this treatment in

the future.”, the author agrees with this statement.

Portia and Shylock only encounters each other in the court scene where Portia is

disguised as Doctor Balthazar. As Cohen (1980: 54-55) suggests and the author

maintains, is it prominently noticeable in the courtroom scene that Portia addresses

Shylock not on his name but as “Jew”, which shows discrimination that supports the

theme of marginalising Shylock from the society. In Act IV, scene i, lines 180-201

Portia speaks to Shylock about mercy, and she truthfully means what she says which

comes from her customary goodness. Anonymous (CliffsNotes) suggests that

through this means she hopes to soften his heart to not go through with the bond,

knowing the outcome if he refuses. But as Shylock refuses she threatens him by

saying that “if thou dost shed one drop of Christian blood, thy lands and goods are

by the laws of Venice confiscate unto the state of Venice.” (IV, i, 305-308) and so she

gains the power of the case. This turns the whole court against Shylock and puts him

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side-lined once again. Portia also refers to the fact that Shylock is a foreigner and

that in the law of Venice it states that if it is found that a foreigner tries to endanger a

Venetian’s life, the Venetian whose life is in danger may take one half of the

foreigner’s goods for his own and the other half goes to the Duke’s personal fortune

and “the defender’s life lies in the mercy of the Duke” (IV, i, 351-352).

In conclusion the author can say that Shylock is judged based on the fact that he is a

foreigner and also a Jew. The author has explained how Antonio reacts in relation to

Shylock to disrespect him and his race. The author also clarified in what way the

word choice of Antonio and Portia alienates Shylock even more from the civilization.

And thus it is clear that Shylock is marginalised by the choice of words and the

actions of other characters towards him.

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Reference List:

Anon. (CliffsNotes) Study guide: The Merchant of Venice – Character Analysis.

http://www.cliffsnotes.com/study_guide/literature/merchant-of-venice/character-

analysis/portia.html Date of access: 18 Mar. 2013

COHEN, D. M. 1980. Shakespeare Quarterly, Vol. 31, No. 1 pp. 53-63. Folger

Shakespeare Library in association with George Washington University.

http://www.jstor.org/stable/2869369 Date of access: 18 Mar. 2013

Miller, R. 2011. pqe-task-act-1-scene-31[1]. http://www.google.co.za/url?

sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&frm=1&source=web&cd=6&ved=0CFgQFjAF&url=http%3A

%2F%2Fmrmillerenglish.files.wordpress.com%2F2011%2F12%2Fpqe-task-act-1-

scene-

31.docx&ei=PnhHUe7pCpOWhQf3poC4Bw&usg=AFQjCNHH3tYq2UOmL0Vz8MhbI

JR4mvebtQ&sig2=MFpVqRoDLvpHpDIScTzDkw&bvm=bv.43828540,d.d2k

Date of access: 18 Mar. 2013