Richard III and The Merchant of Venice
Richard and Shylock commit to villainy for different reasons. Various selfish reasons fuel their desire to do evil. Richard has the desire to acquire the throne at all costs. Shylock’s desire, on the other hand, is to avenge the evils he believes have been done to him. He avenges evil with more evil. In their respective plays, both Richard and Shylock are manipulative and villainous forces of evil that is a significant similarity characteristic of the two characters in the respective roles they play. Of the two characters, however, we like Shylock’s character more than Richard III. Despite Shylock’s character, we can understand and sympathize with him because even before the play begins, he is an outcast and discriminated against by other Christians.
Unlike Shylock, Richard appears unapologetic about his evil plans and deeds. He openly declares his evil plots. At one point, he states that even as he commits murder he can still afford to smile (Richard). What we do not especially like about his character is that we see no significant reason behind his actions. On the other hand, it is clear that Shylock is pushed by Antonio and the Christians in general. He affirms that Antonio has laughed at his losses, disgraced him, and created a barrier for him not to gain half a million and many other forms of discrimination for the reason that he is a Jew (The Merchant of Venice).
Richard appears to justify his evil actions. However, we do not understand the sober motive behind the evilness that resides in him. The audience cannot sympathize with him. He is power hungry and kills people for no apparent reason. Shylock, on the other hand, is alienated. The Christian characters in his play see him as evil because he is a Jew. His thoughts, however, differ from those of the Christians which gives us a reason to understand his actions and hence sympathize with him. In addition, his actions are open. The fact that the Christian characters misjudge his intentions is what ails him. At one point he declares that the villainy he will execute is a teaching by the Christians (The Merchant of Venice). Unlike us, they fail to understand him.
Another disparity evident in Shylock’s and Richard’s character is in the actions they undertake to realize their particular goals. Although there is a degree of evilness in the actions of both of them, we like shylock’s actions better. We sympathize with the motives behind his actions and therefore understand to a great extent his deeds. As much as he wants to revenge, he does not go out killing everyone on his way like Richard in his quest for power.
Shylock finds a perfect opportunity to avenge the ridicule he is subjected to by Antonio and other Christians when Bassanio approaches him for a loan with Antonio’s shipment as collateral. The loan must be repaid at end of three months failure to which Antonio has to surrender a pound of flesh. They both know very well that this means murder. Shylock was a Jew whose business was to lend money. Antonio and other Christians ridicule him because he is a Jew. They also ridicule him because the interest rates he charges are excessive. When Antonio signs the deal, Shylock is left hoping that the shipment does not arrive in time so that he avenges against Antonio and all Christians in general.
It is clear that Shylock only wants to prove that he is worthy just like Antonio and other Christians. Besides he wonders whether Jews are not hurt with the same weapons, have affection, senses, and organs and suffer the same diseases as Christians (The Merchant of Venice). He understands and respects the Christians laws. On the other hand, the Christians fail to respect Shylock back. As a result, he feels disturbed. However, he does not go killing all Christians in a bid to revenge. He only targets Antonio who is in the front line of those who discriminate against Christians. He is so perturbed that no amount offered will make him change his mind. He even refuses to accept an offer of three times the debt. At the end of it all, however, he does not kill Antonio or anyone else.
Richard’s actions, on the other hand, take a different root. He is ready to kill anyone who appears as an obstacle to his goal of acquiring the throne. Many dislike Richard especially Ann, who openly calls him a villain. However, Richard is still able to woo her to marriage by telling her that her beauty haunts him in his sleep and he could kill everyone in the world just to have her (Richard III). Richard’s evil-driven desires make him plot for the killing of Clarence and later blame the queen for this murder.
Even after Richard becomes king, his cruelty continues. He has a desire to marry Edward’s daughter. Therefore, he plans for the killing of his wife first. This greed and struggle with the people that are on his way leads him to his death at the end of the play. Unlike Richard, Shylock does not lose his life. He is converted to become one of the Christians he loathes most. Therefore, although both Richard and Shylock had profound senses of hatred residing in them, their goals and actions led them to different destinations.
Shylock is a better villain than Richard. We understand the motives behind his actions. We even sympathize with him because of the discrimination he was subjected against. We like Shylock more because we understand his intentions and his actions are open.
Richard III. Dir. Richard Loncraine. Perf. Ian McKellen, Annette Bening, Jim Broadbent. Mayfair Entertainment International, 1995. DVD.
The Merchant of Venice. Dir. Michael Radford. Perf. Al Pacino. Avenues Pictures Productions, 2004. DVD.