Many people are villainous in the way they behave. Their actions may be attributed to their need to knock others down to elevate themselves to a higher social or financial bracket. However, the root cause of their villainy may be a reaction to the abuse that they have undergone at the hands of others. This malevolence may be nurtured in a person, rather than being there from the start. It is on such occasions, where villains have themselves been exposed to wickedness, that the distinction between villain and victim becomes blurred. In "The Merchant of Venice- it can be stated that Shylock's character is in a constant state of limbo, between good and evil. However, this essay will include both sides of the argument and takes account of what Shakespeare himself may have intended in the portrayal of Shylock.
First we will examine the portions of the text that portray Shylock as a malicious, murderous, and demonic villain. Shylock first appears in Act I scene iii, where we learn of his usury. This is also the scene in which Bassanio seeks Shylock out and asks to borrow money from him, in the name of Antonio. This is where we first get a glimpse at Shylock's feelings towards Antonio and all Christians alike: "Now like a fawning publican he looks! I hate him for he is a Christian;- (Act I, scene iii). Shylock obviously hates Christians, but we cannot be sure if it is because they have rejected him and treated him as an outcast, or because he plainly despises them. However, Shylock displays elements of hostility in his refusal to ever forgive the Christians. We also learn of his intent towards Antonio: "If I can catch him once upon the hip, I will feed fat the ancient grudge I bear him- (Act I, scene iii). Shylock obviously feels blind ill will against all Christians. .
Shylock also exposes himself as cunning and deceitful by hiding his hatred beneath a fazade of friendship in order to entice Antonio to become indebted to him, not just financially but with his life as well.