In Classic Shakespeare Tale
In classic Shakespeare tale, we are usually introduced to a young couple finding their way to true love only to have somebody meddle in and ruin the day. The antagonists in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Egeus) and Merchant of Venice (Shylock) arguably symbolize a deeper meaning in their respective stories that transcends the villainous roles they depict in their plays. It is through the actions of Egeus and Shylock, that the stories have been set into motion and every decision the main characters make, is a result of the predicaments imposed by the ‘outsiders’ of the plays.
Shakespeare’s depiction of Shylock and Egeus are rather negative and make them off to be, more or less, the worst people on Earth. In doing so, Shakespeare has made clear of his intentions of heavily dramatizing the antagonists. The two characters share a huge similarity in that they are both fathers who object of their daughter’s choice of spouse. Egeus’s objection is much stronger than Shylock’s and the whole play is really set up because Egeus rejected the marriage of Hermia and Lysander. Shylock, on the other hand, is aware of his daughter’s marriage only after she runs away from home and begins to show anger in a moment of rage, in his final attempt at revenge in extracting a pound of Antonio’s flesh.
Egeus, although a man with only a very few lines throughout the play, proves to be one of the most vital characters of the story. It’s only through his ultimatum to Hermia, that the main characters have to inevitably overcome his barriers to find true love. Egeus, a noble man, lives by the strict laws of society and has a high level of authority which he can thank his patriarchal society for. According to the rules of the law he can make all of his daughter’s decisions, including the choice of groom, “I beg the ancient privilege of Athens. As she is mine, I may dispose of her—Which shall be either to this gentleman Or to her death—according to our law Immediately provided in that case. (I.ii.42-46).” It’s clear Egeus does not care for Hermia’s wishes at all and even going so far as to threaten the use his authority to have her killed if she fails to comply with his wishes. Egeus at his core can be best described as a greedy person showing absolutely no regards for his daughter’s contentedness and he happens to also be the cause of roadblocks the main characters will have to face throughout the story.
Shylock has wrongfully had his dignity and everything he stands for stripped from him in an ironic act of mercy in an unfair trial, which he was destined to lose from the very beginning. Just the very fact that Shylock is a Jew living in a Christian society shows heavy bias in favor of Antonio. If the two men originally agreed on a deal, why shouldn’t it be fulfilled? Shylock lost all the things important to him in his life: his daughter, his money, his claims, and worst of all his identity in his religion. In his last scene and in a final act of defeat Shylock states, “I pray you give me leave to go from hence. I am not well. Send the deed after me And I will sign it. (IV.i.412-414)”. Having unfairly lost all that and even having to abashedly beg for the mercy of his own life, how could Shylock possibly cope with the harsh new realities he is faced with? From a bigger picture, even with all of Shylock’s flaws, we can see Shylock as being a character one can sympathize with and perhaps even see the main characters as wrongdoers in the sense that they conspired together and destroyed a man’s life.
Shylock’s depiction in the play at Theatricum Botanicum can best be described as captivating and brings to light the disdain the other characters subjected him to throughout the play. Shylock’s words were booming and filled with lots of emotions that really captured the feeling of hatred that is bottled up inside of him. Shylock’s presence on stage brought out a negative aura and anybody who communicated with him throughout the play did so out of spite. The scene in which Shylock and Antonio agree on the ‘pound of flesh’ deal is intriguing in that Shylock’s proposal seemed to be spontaneous and it seems he only said it because he didn’t think Antonio wouldn’t comply. In this scene, Bassanio and all of Antonio’s other close associates attempted to convince Antonio from taking the deal. However, Antonio was so confident in his ships and so willing to help out Bassanio that he did not waste a second breath in closing the deal with Shylock.
The only time Shylock ‘had his moment’ was in his trial scene, where he finally thought he had bested the likes of Antonio and the other Christians who made his life a living hell. The look of joy on Shylock’s face as he was about to get his pound of flesh was everything and to see that all that crumble, through Shylock’s changed look when Portia basically finesses him out of the remaining assets he has, was heartbreaking. It had looked as if his whole world had come crashing down and the very person Shylock himself knew to be, would be no more. I feel that the discrimination of Jews is most evident through this trial scene because had the roles been reversed with Shylock being in Antonio’s situation and vice versa – Shylock would, without a doubt, have lost that pound of flesh and absolutely no remorse or tears would have been shed for him.
In all this it’s important to see that Egeus and Shylock are made out to be more evil than they actually are because the play is a drama and the two are the necessary evils that need to exist in order to make the story flow. Shakespeare’s ability to create a multi-dimensional character is unmatched, most evidently through Shylock where we can find times where we abhor him but find times where we can sympathize and feel sorry for him. Egeus is in short time throughout the story resembles much more, serving as a symbol of the society he lives in who can’t grasp his daughter’s wanting of ‘true love’. The two characters, in all their differences, respectively create the story and predicaments in which the main characters have to face, while introducing multiples themes that deviate outside the storylines.