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Free Study Guide-The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare-Study Guide
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In Venice, it is rumored that Antonio's cargo-laden ship is sunk in the English Channel. Salanio and Salarino are currently bemoaning this misfortune for their friend. Shylock comes upon the two of them in conversation. He accuses them of helping Jessica to escape. Shylock also warns that Antonio should be careful since he has mocked him publicly for being a moneylender. Finally, Shylock claims that revenge is natural to all human beings, whether Christian or Jewish. At the end of the play, Antonio disproves this theory of Shylock. Tubal, another Jewish merchant, approaches the group just as Salarino and Salanio are about to leave for Antonio's house. Tubal has just returned from Genoa, and Shylock asks him if he has found Jessica. When Tubal answers negatively, Shylock raves about his lost fortune and the money he is spending in trying to locate her.

Tubal states that one of Antonio's ships has definitely been wrecked. When Shylock hears the news, he begins to make plans for arresting Antonio, when he cannot repay the debt. He asks Tubal to find a sheriff's man for him.


Once again, information is gained through the conversation of Salarino and Salanio. They report on the news of Antonio's wrecked ship and Shylock's state of mind. As Shylock himself enters, they call him devil and make fun of him. They tease him mercilessly about the loss of his daughter. Salarino tells him that Jessica, though his own flesh and blood, has very little in common with him; he claims, "There is more difference between thy flesh and hers, than between jet and ivory."

When the crazed Shylock hears about the loss of Antonio's ship, he determines to extract his pound of flesh from Antonio when he fails to repay his debt in a timely manner. He tells Salarino and Salanio that Antonio's flesh will "feed" his revenge. Shylock then lists the wrongs done to him by Antonio all because he is a Jew. In this famous speech of justification for seeking revenge, Shylock asks, "Hath not a Jew eyes?" He argues that there is no significant difference between his disposition and that of the Christians. Shylock claims that he is as human as they, with "hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions." It is significant that he makes no mention of having a heart in this diatribe. It is also intentional and ironic that he claims equality only at the lowest levels of human beings, the basic physical form and pure instinct.

Elizabethan Christians hated Jews, here embodied in Shylock. Although Shakespeare gives voice to the persecuted minority, who is allowed to claim equal humanity with gentiles, he undercuts this claim by having Shylock only claim bodily equality. Shylock shuns gentle ways and lacks humility, generosity and charity. Antonio, who characterizes Christians, proves he is gentle, generous, and loyal and has a nobler ideal of humanity. Shylock is more in a frenzy than ever because of the money he is spending in the search for his daughter. He openly states his bitterness when he says, "I would my daughter were dead at my foot, and the jewels in her ear." He is in despair at the news that Jessica is squandering his fortune and appears sorrowful that Jessica has even traded a ring given to him by her mother for a monkey. His harangue against Jessica competes with his delight in the news of Antonio's possible ruin.

Another Jew, Tubal, plays on Shylock's greed. He raises Shylock's spirits and deflates them skillfully, by alternating his references, first to Antonio, and then to Jessica. Shylock appears to be an outsider even amongst the Jews. It is no small wonder that he says he now feels the curse of the Jew.

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Free Study Guide-The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare-Book Notes


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