The Merchant of Venice: Scene Notes – Act III, scene i




·         As the scene opens, it is discovered through a conversation between Solanio and Solerio that Antonio’s ships have been lost at sea thereby increasing the tension felt amongst the audience.

·         Shylock enters accusing Solanio and Solerio of having knowledge of Jessica’s disappearance.

·         Shylock’s joy is evident as he is informed of news regarding Antonio’s lost ships and he embarks upon his famous speech, ‘Hath not a Jew eyes?’. This speech serves to humanise Shylock indicating that he is the same as any other man and making the audience aware of his sufferings. However, this is undermined by the final sentence, ‘The villainy you teach me I will execute, and it shall go hard but I will better the intrusion’, in which he vows revenge against Antonio for the wrongdoings of Christians therefore eradicating any sympathy that may have been felt by the audience towards Shylock.

·         The entrance of Tubal brings news of Jessica’s frivolous spending, sending Shylock into a rage as his despair due to losing his daughter and, perhaps most importantly, his ducats is evident. His wish that his daughter was ‘dead at [his] foot’ causes him to be perceived as vicious and to a degree insane by the audience.



Motifs and Connotations

Sea – linked to ideas of fate, destiny and changeability:

·         Within the scene we learn of Antonio’s misfortunes due to the fact that he lost a ship at sea. When Shylock hears of this, he refers to Antonio as ‘a beggar that used to come so smug upon the mart’ thereby indicating that Antonio used to be self-righteous when he did business. This example illustrates the way in which the sea can be linked to the idea of changeability as due to his lost ship, the manner in which Antonia conducts business will be altered. Furthermore, it indicates a change in the amount of power that he possessed in his relationship with Shylock. Prior to the loss of his ships, Antonio seemed to hold a great deal of power due to the fact that he was confident that he could repay the loan; however as a result of his misfortune he has lost power as he is now indebted to Shylock and ‘he cannot choose but break’ (in other words he is forced to become bankrupt). In addition, Shylock refers to Antonio’s loss as ‘ill luck’ raising issues of fate and destiny.


Money and Business:

·         Throughout the scene the motif of money and business is explored. Within the scene Shylock repeats phrases such as ‘Let him look to his bond!’ indicating the importance he places upon money and painting him as money hungry. Shylock’s references to money serve to further vilify him due to the fact that he seemingly places greater importance on his money than his daughter. He express his wish that his daughter ‘were dead at my foot, and the jewels in her ear; would she were hearsed at my foot, and the ducats in her coffin’. He states, ‘A diamond gone cost me two thousand ducats in Frankfort – the curse never fell upon our nation till now… two thousand ducats in that and other precious, precious jewels’. The fact that he refers to his jewels as ‘precious’ in contrast to his daughter who he refers to as a ‘thief’ indicates that he values material objects in the form of his jewels and money more than his daughter, who should be in the eyes of the audience more valuable. However, Shylock may be redeemed to a certain extent as the audience witnesses that he views the ring that his dead wife gave him as invaluable when he states, ‘I would not have given it for a wilderness of monkeys’. This enables the audiences to witness an emotional dimension to Shylock and therefore possibly sympathise with him as they are aware that he places value on items that they would consider valuable. On the other hand, the impression given of Antonio with regard to business and money is one of sympathy and Antonio is placed on a pedestal by Salerio and Solanio.


The restrictive nature of papers/letters/documents:

·         Shylock constantly repeats the phrase, ‘Let him look to his bond!’ indicating the restrictive nature of papers such as the bond which has connotations of control and confinement. Shylock also states that he ‘will have the heart of [Antonio] if [Antonio] forfeit’ suggesting that despite Antonio’s inability to pay the bond it will not be broken thereby emphasising the confining and restricting nature of the bond.


Revenge vs. justice/mercy:

·         Furthermore, this scene is a key scene for the motif of revenge in comparison to justice or mercy. Within Shylock’s soliloquy he states, ‘If a Jew wrong a Christian, what is his humility? Revenge! If a Christian wrong a Jew, what should his sufferance be by Christian example? Why, revenge! The villainy you teach me I will execute, and it should go hard but I will better the instruction’. This indicates the double standards that society held for Jews and Christians at the time, as Christians were able to seek revenge yet still expect mercy from the Jews, yet the Jews were still expected to honour the Christian values of mercy. Within the scene a conflict between revenge and mercy emerges as it is apparent that Shylock is intent on seeking revenge despite the fact that mercy is seen as the acceptable path by the audience as well as the other characters.




The portrayal of Shylock as a victim:

·         Despite the fact that Shylock is generally perceived to be a villain throughout the text, within this scene he is portrayed as a victim. Initially, the loss of his daughter, Jessica, in conjunction with taunting from Salerio and Solanio such as ‘I, for my part, knew and the tailor that made the wings she flew withal’ stimulate sympathy within the audience as they may feel for Shylock due to his loss. Although many traditional audiences may still deem Jessica’s abandonment of Shylock as simply a just punishment for the way in which he treated her; modern audiences may feel more sympathy towards Shylock as a result of this event. Shylock’s famous soliloquy, ‘To bait fish withal…’, portrays him as a tragic character and highlights that society is bound by a vicious circle. This is due to the fact that society’s treatment of Jews at the time thus created villains such as Shylock. Throughout the soliloquy, Shylock vilifies Antonio identifying the disgraceful manner in which he has been treated thereby giving justification for his hatred towards Antonio as Antonio has effectively undermined his humanity. Through the vilification of Antonio, Shylock, himself, is able to raise his own status and evoke sympathy from the audience. Shylock’s speech serves to humanise Jews emphasising the fact that Jews are the same as any other human being through phrases such as, ‘Hath not a Jew eyes? hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses affections passions? fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us do we not laugh? if you poison us, do we not die?’. Furthermore, his passion and constant use of rhetorical questions and triads may evoke pathos amongst the audience. In addition, Shylock’s speech serves as a justification for the phrase, ‘And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?’. The fact that this phrase comes after this list of ill-treatment indicates that his want for revenge is due purely to the way in which he was treated. Consequently he should not be vilified for this as a Christian would have readily sought revenge upon him. Therefore, he could be considered to be a tragic victim and a product of society evoking sympathy from a modern audience.


The portrayal of Shylock as a villain;

·                     Throughout the play as well as this scene, Shakespeare portrays Shylock in a negative light further vilifying him and fueling the anti-Semitic views held by many traditional audiences. Shylock’s entrance further reinforces his role as a villain within the play and his opening lines, ‘You knew, none so well, none so well as you, of my daughter’s flight’, are seen to be accusatory and vicious. Salerio and Solanio’s taunts would be well received by Shakespeare’s audience as they were of the opinion that Shylock deserved to be abandoned by Jessica. Furthermore, Shylock’s repetition of the phrase ‘let him look to his bond’ indicates the importance of money to Shylock and may result in him being perceived as money obsessed. Shylock’s language within this scene has changed and the repetition of such phrases could illustrate that he has become more obsessed and unhinged. Additionally, in line 19, Shylock is referred to as ‘the devil’ thereby increasing the audience’s hatred and contempt towards him. Despite the fact that Shylock’s soliloquy within this scene is often recognised as his most humanising speech, it could also enhance his profile as a villain. His passion within the speech could be viewed, especially by traditional audiences, as rage. Furthermore, as most traditional audiences were Christian, vow for revenge could be seen as against the Christian virtue of forgiveness and therefore cause Shylock to be portrayed in a negative light. Shylock’s vows for revenge and glee as a result of Antonio’s misfortune may further increase tension as the audience may be concerned for Antonio.

·                     Any prior feelings of sympathy held by the audience would be destroyed by the subsequent part of the scene in which he reverted back to a crazy and vicious individual. Furthermore, Shylock is portrayed as being more concerned about his ducats and jewels than his daughter and is infuriated when he discovers that she has spent a great deal of money and traded his jewels for a monkey. His wish that his daughter was ‘dead at [his] foot’ causes him to be perceived as vicious and to a degree insane by the audience. Shylock’s symbolic killing of his daughter who he holds at a lesser value than his money causes him to be further vilified. Additionally, Shylocks repetition of short phrases such as ‘What, what what? ill luck, ill luck?’, ‘I thank God, I thank God! Is it true, is it true?” cause him to seem evil and malicious and possibly disorientated.

·                     However, hypocrisy is evident with regard to the manner by which Shakespeare attempts to vilify Shylock. This is due to the fact that Shylock is portrayed as a villain and overbearing as he confines and effectively entraps Jessica, whereas Portia’s confinement by her father is depicted as caring. In addition, this hypocrisy is evident within the parallel between Antonio and Shylock. Although Shylock is seen to be a villain as a result of his desire to extract Antonio’s flesh; Antonio is still seen as a hero despite having knowledge of Lorenzo’s elopement with Jessica in which he effectively takes away Shylock’s flesh and blood.

·                     This is a key moment for this motif as it undermines and eradicates any sympathy that would have been felt by audiences towards Shylock and ensures that he perceived as a villain.


Women are commodities to be won, traded and owned:

·         Within the extract women are treated as commodities that are won, traded and owned. When referring to Jessica Shylock states, ‘My own flesh and blood’ and later repeats, ‘I say my daughter is my flesh and my blood’. The repetition of ‘my’ has connotations of possession indicating how women are simply thought of as commodities and can therefore be owned. Furthermore, Shylock’s symbolic killing of his daughter in return for his ducats indicates that women may have been perceived as meaningless within society.




Bird or nature imagery:

Shylock: You knew, none so well, none so well as you of my

daughter’s flight.

Salerio: That’s certain; I, for my part, knew the tailor that

            made the wings she flew withal.

Solanio: Any Shylock for his own part, knew the bird was

fledged, and then it is the complexion of them all to

leave the dam.


This bird or nature imagery has connotations of freedom referring to Jessica’s break away from Shylock. Furthermore, these ideas serve to contrast ideas of freedom and entrapment. Traditional audiences may interpret Shylock as overbearing and domineering; however modern audiences may interpret Shylock’s actions as caring and his unwillingness to let go of Jessica as attachment. This imagery functions as a comedic interlude between the upsetting news of Antonio’s lost ships, which increased the tension felt by many audiences, as the smug attitude of Salerio allows traditional audiences especially to bask in Shylock’s unease and anger.




Salerio: There is more difference between thy flesh and hers

            than between jet and ivory, more between your

            bloods than there is between red wine and Rhenish.


It is evident that the contrasts between the images are very harsh thereby making a clear distinction between Shylock and Jessica. This effectively strips Jessica of her religions as she is associated with the Christians therefore further angering Shylock.




Shylock: To bait fish withal; - if it will feed nothing else; it

            will feed my revenge…


The repetition of the word ‘feed’ has connotations of a vampire therefore associating Shylock with being bloodthirsty and inhumane. This serves to further vilify Shylock and intensifies the anti-Semitic feelings or views of a traditional audience.



Shylock’s soliloquy:

Shylock:                                                           Hath not

 a Jew eyes? hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimen-

sions, senses affections passions? fed with the same

food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the

same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed

and cooled by the same winter and summer as a

Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you

tickle us do we not laugh? if you poison us, do we

not die?’…


The employment of these images and rhetorical questions serves to directly attack and address the audience, playing on their emotions and possibly evoking pathos within modern audiences especially. Furthermore, since many of these images are familiar and therefore applicable to the audience, they are more likely to have an impact on them.




Shylock: …I would my daughter were

dead at my foot, and the jewels in her ear; would she

were hearsed at my foot, and the ducats in her



Shylock’s symbolic killing of is daughter emphasises his materialistic nature and serves to further vilify him eradicating any pathos previously felt towards Shylock by the audience. The fact that he values money above his daughter indicates the insignificance of women within society at the time.



The Heart:

Shylock:                                   I will

            have the heart of him if he forfeit…


Shylock’s decision to take the flesh nearest to Antonio’s heart reflects his desire to execute both physical and emotional revenge. Physically, the removal of the heart will cause death; however the heart is also the emotional centre of a person; thus the removal of flesh near to the heart will allow emotional revenge on Antonio to be accomplished.





·         Within the scene the character of Shylock is developed significantly as he expresses the injustices he has faced, thus allowing the audience to discover a new dimension to his character. During Shylock’s famous soliloquy he is humanised thereby evoking pathos within modern audiences. The reaction of traditional audiences may have been very dissimilar as their anti-Semitic views may have hindered their ability to feel sympathy towards Shylock. Instead, traditional audiences may have perceived and interpreted Shylock’s passion as anger. However, although the character of Shylock is humanised and sympathised with to a certain extent, this is undermined by his vow of revenge against Antonio, who the audience feels sympathy towards. Furthermore, his basking in Antonio’s defeat as well as his symbolic killing of his daughter may result in him being portrayed in a negative light and as a villain with the audience feeling a greater amount of animosity towards him. The shift in his language to include more repetition could be interpreted as him expressing signs of insanity and becoming disorientated.



·         Despite the fact that Antonio does not appear in this scene, his character is further developed. His lack of appearance could indicate his higher status and indicate that he is distant from the base everyday life. The audience is enlightened as to the loss of his ship thereby arousing more sympathy towards him. An increase in tension may also be felt within the audience as they may fear for his safety as a result of Shylock’s vow for revenge. Furthermore, comparisons made with Shylock, who is perceived as a villain, as well as the comments made by Solanio and Salerio place him on a pedestal and reinforce his role as a generous Christian.



·         The character of Jessica also evolves as we learn of her frivolous spending. Traditional audiences may react to these acts positively as they further anger Shylock, therefore allowing the audience to feel a greater amount of animosity towards him. However, modern audiences may not feel as much sympathy towards Jessica as they may have felt that Shylock was simply protecting her.



·         In addition, the character of Tubal is present. Despite being a Jew, Tubal may be employed by Shylock to stir up anti-Semitic feeling within the audience through his comments which are designed to portray Shylock in a negative and villainous light.




This scene is set in Venice which is associated with money, business, documents and power and is the area which is mostly inhabited by males. Within this area patriarchy and the power of men is apparent. However, within this scene, despite the business mood, Shylock makes a very emotional speech effectively reaching out to the audience and thereby introducing emotion to a typically business orientated atmosphere.



Narrative Style / Structure

Within this scene Shakespeare employs base or course language and imagery aimed at the lower class audience thereby involving them and playing on their crude sense of humour. Although, Shylock’s soliloquy is one of Shakespeare’s most famous speeches, it is written in prose possibly indicating the lower status of Jews within society at the time. Within this speech Shylock directly addresses the audience through the use of rhetorical questions therefore forcing them to think and feel emotion – either sympathy or animosity – towards Shylock. During the scene Shylock’s language changes, with the inclusion of more repetition, causing him to be perceived as becoming unhinged and disorientated.



Relation of Part to Whole

Ultimately, this scene is an integral part of the play, as for the first time the audience is able to witness a new dimension to the character of Shylock. The audience witnesses Shylock’s torment as a result of the loss of his daughter and his ducats, in contrast to his elation due to news of Antonio’s misfortune, thereby constructing a more three dimensional character. Furthermore, the scene contains Shylock’s most human speech in which the audience is able to understand to a degree Shylock’s motivation for revenge and the torment that he has endured. This may lead to a greater degree of sympathy and pathos being felt towards Shylock by modern audiences. However, traditional audiences, due to the fact that anti-Semitic feelings were rife at the time, may construe or interpret Shylock’s passion as anger. Any sympathy felt by audiences is undermined and destroyed due to the juxtaposition of the soliloquy with Shylock’s want of revenge and symbolic killing of Jessica, thereby reverting him back to a vicious villain in the eyes of the audience. The images used throughout the scene further vilify Shylock. Through this the character of Antonio is placed on a pedestal. In addition this scene is contrasted with the positive mood of the previous scene as it increases tension as the audience fears for the safety of Antonio.