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Free Study Guide-The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare-Study Guide
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In Venice, Bassanio meets Shylock and wants to borrow three thousand ducats for three months. Antonio guarantees the bond, even though it is against his principles to borrow or lend money for profit. Shylock at first is reticent, saying that Antonio, although a good man, has all his money tied up in ships; and one can never predict what happens at sea. Shylock finally decides to grant the loan but not until he speaks to Antonio in person. Bassanio invites Shylock to dinner with Antonio. Shylock refuses, since it is against his religious principles to eat pork. Antonio joins them and Shylock, in an aside to the audience, describes his hatred for Antonio. He abhors Antonio for being a Christian and also because he gives free loans to the needy. The rates of interest that Shylock can obtain on loans given in Venice, is thus reduced. In addition, Antonio has humiliated and mocked Shylock in public for his miserliness. Shylock vows that he will revenge himself on Antonio.

Shylock refers to the Biblical story of Jacob and Laban to justify his practice of taking interest on loans, and explains how usury is different from theft. Antonio derides his explanation. Antonio urges Shylock to make a decision about the loan. In a derogatory speech, Shylock names the injustices that Antonio has done to him in the past. It seems ironic to Shylock that Antonio, who has spat on him, should now seek his favor. Antonio replies that he would very likely repeat his past actions since they reflect his true thoughts. Antonio then explains that what he is seeking is a businessman's loan and not a friendly favor; therefore, Shylock should lend him the money since he is a good credit risk. In an apparently conciliatory manner, Shylock says that he will grant the loan with the somewhat humorous provision that if Antonio fails to repay the loan, Shylock will exact a pound of Antonio's flesh as compensation. Antonio, confident that his ships will return with a fortune long before the three month bond date arrives, agrees to the condition. Bassanio, suspecting foul intent, is alarmed with the terms, but Antonio reassures him that he will not fail to repay the loan.


In this scene, the animosity between Jew and Christian is presented. Shylock is developed as the accepted stereotype of a Jew in the seventeenth century; he is crafty, mercenary, and cruel. He also has a deep hatred of Antonio, and for good reason. Shylock is amused that a man who has spit on him, called him "cut-throat dog," and even kicked him should now approach him for a loan without any show of shame. These humiliations of Shylock and the Jew's bitterness over being treated so badly are the reflections of the Jewish-Christian relationship of the times.

Shylock replies in a mechanical manner, which underlines Shakespeare's dehumanization of his character. It also implies cruelty and moral degeneration. Shylock reflects that Antonio is a "good" man. For him, good refers to wealth and not to kindness or humanity. He stresses the fact that Antonio's wealth is all at sea. He observes that "ships are but boards, sailors but men," suggesting that Antonio's ventures may well be at risk. It is clear that he has kept himself abreast of the details of Venetian mercantile activity, since he can itemize all of Antonio's various ventures. Shylock embodies all that is inhuman and cold.

After demurring for some time, Shylock agrees to the loan. Despite his feelings, he will do business with Christians, for it is profitable for him; but he will not eat, drink, or pray with them. Shylock, therefore, is portrayed as an intruder in a gentile world and an outsider in many senses. Shylock's aside reveals a deep hatred of Antonio and a lust for revenge. He also resents Antonio because he lends money free, reducing the rate of interest, which he as a moneylender, can charge. Antonio claims to despise usury, but he is not above using it according to his need. Shylock reminds him of his professed superiority by saying, "Methoughts you said you neither lend nor borrow upon advantage." Shylock then uses Antonio's past insults to taunt him and now asks him how a dog could lend him three thousand ducats. Antonio suggests that Shylock should lend the money as he would "to thine enemy," imposing the usual terms of a loan. If the money is not repaid on time, Shylock can exact the penalty.

Shylock, using the situation to his fullest advantage, pretends to agree with this idea of business and suggests that no interest will be demanded out of "kindness." Pretending that it is a joke, "a merry sport," he suggests that if the loan is not repaid, he will cut off a pound of Antonio's flesh. Bassanio bridles at this bargain and says, "I like not fair terms and a villain's mind." Antonio reassures his friend about the improbability of losing all his ships. Antonio accepts Shylock's false act of open kindness.

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