Several times, I have seen people ask book bloggers who their favorite villain from literature is. I never really understood the question. “Favorite villain? Who has a favorite villain? Isn’t the hero the only one we’re supposed to care about?” Granted, some villains are rather intriguing and some are so despicable that you enjoy their comeuppance more than the hero’s triumph, but I never thought I could truly like a villain.
Apparently, I was wrong.
Shylock, from The Merchant of Venice, has grown on me fast. He is the best villain ever, and my new favorite villain, because he is at the same time terrifying and sympathetic. He is terrifying because at heart, he really is a twisted little thing, but he is so beat down and his oppressors are so unjust that you feel for him as well. He makes you want to root from him and Antonio, hoping there is some way they can both get what they want (a way in which Shylock gets to keep his money and be treated like any other person and Antonio gets to keep his money and his life. Clearly, I’m not saying I want Shylock to get a pound of Antonio’s flesh. That would just be nasty). Not to mention, Shylock is by far the most complex character in the play, which makes him all the more interesting.
Another good thing about Shylock is that he gives Shakespeare nerds like myself plenty to talk about. Traditionally, it’s been assumed that, because Shylock is a Jew who conforms to Jewish stereotypes, he is meant as a sort of straw man which Shakespeare can use to attack all Jews. But many people believe that The Merchant of Venice is not meant to be anti-Semitic at all but rather to argue against anti-Semitism. They can’t agree as to whether Shylock was meant to be a sympathetic character or not. So far, I know how I think Shylock should be viewed, but I still haven’t figured out how Shakespeare might have wanted Shylock to be viewed. It’s an incredibly geeky way to spend one’s time, analyzing the play like this, but it’s rather fun for me. Like a puzzle.
Lastly, Shylock is my favorite villain because he can be turned into this:
This film (but not the voice-over) comes from Orson Welles’s 1969 adaptation of The Merchant of Venice, a film that (sadly) has since been lost. Welles cast himself as Shylock, and as you can see, he would have been the best Shylock ever.
So, there are my reasons for liking Shakespeare’s so-called “cutthroat dog.” Agree? Disagree? Do you have a favorite villain too? I’d love to hear from you about this or anything else bookish. You know where to find me.