The Merchant of Venice: Scene Notes – Act IV, scene i (lines 1 – 220)




·         The matter of the bond is brought to court as Shylock demands his pound of flesh.

·         Even the Duke of Venice cannot persuade Shylock to rethink his demand and Shylock is asked for his reasons for wanting the pound of flesh instead of the money.

·         Shylock replies that it is just for his pleasure.

·         Bassanio and Shylock argue over Shylock’s answer and Shylock finally asks if Bassanio is willing to let “a serpent sting [him] twice”. This is a clear reflection of the way Shylock feels Antonio has treated him.

·         Antonio requests that the matter be resolved quickly with as little complications as possible, as persuading Shylock to change his mind would be harder than reasoning with a wolf.

·         Bassanio offers to double the money owed to Shylock but he refuses.

·         Shylock does not show any mercy as he feels that he has done nothing wrong and therefore need not fear judgement.

·         Shylock reasons that he should be allowed to do what he wishes with the pound of flesh as he had bought it, in the same way slaves are under the power of their slave-owners.

·         Portia arrives disguised as a young lawyer to defend Antonio in place of Doctor Bellario.

·         Portia tries to reason and persuade Shylock before leading him to believe that he will have his bond.

·         Shylock still demands his bond be kept.

·         Bassanio pleads with Portia to use ‘his’ power to bend the law to save Antonio but Portia refuses and this leads Shylock to believe that he would have his pound of flesh.



Themes, motifs and connotations:


·         The Christian characters in court expect Shylock to show Antonio mercy and throughout the extract, try to persuade Shylock to lessen his demands, which he refuses.

·         Portia tries to reason with Shylock as she is a Christian and in the New Testament, God is portrayed as being forgiving and merciful. As Shylock is a Jew, he would abide by the Old Testament and the Old Testament states that rules should be strictly followed, with severe punishment to those who do not abide by those rules.

·         At the end of the extract, Shylock still firmly refuses to show Antonio any mercy and this proves to be his downfall as the rest of the scene depicts Portia manipulating the terms of the bond and freeing Antonio from the bond. She then does not show mercy to Shylock.



·         Shylock clearly shows his hatred for Antonio and the Christians throughout the play. This results from the constant conflict between Jews and Christians. Shylock refuses to show Antonio mercy despite the countless efforts from the Christian characters to try to persuade him.

·         The audience can also see his hatred in his answer that his desire for the pound of flesh is purely for his pleasure. This irrational and cruel answer shows the extent of his hatred for the Christian Antonio.

·         On the other hand, the modern audience can sympathise with Shylock as his hatred towards the Christians could be considered as being justified as he has been made to suffer through the ill treatment that the Jews are given.



·         The court scene is set in Venice and as Venice symbolises masculinity and Portia is a woman, she is forced to disguise herself as a young male lawyer if her opinions are to be valued.

·         This reinforces the stereotypes of men being more superior and intellectual than women. Dressing in male clothing enables Portia to have the power and authority that she would not normally be able to have, due to her gender.




·         Pg 179 – Line 41 – “A weight of carrion flesh” – Shylock refers to the pound of flesh as rotting meat. As the pound of flesh belongs to Antonio the Christian, this could further emphasise Shylock’s hatred towards Antonio. The rotting flesh could also show Shylock’s attitude towards the Christians as he could feel that Christianity is a disease, which rots the flesh.

·         Pg 181 – Line 69 – “serpent” – Shylock implies that Antonio is the serpent who has stung him. The all-Christian audience during Shakespeare’s time might feel that this further emphasises Shylock’s villainy by calling the good Christian Antonio a “serpent”. In the Bible, it was the serpent that had led Eve to disobeying God and Shylock calling Antonio a serpent would be the ultimate retaliation for all the insults that Shylock has had to endure from the Christians.





·         Referred to as “the Jew” throughout the extract except when the Duke calls him by name once. This shows how Jews were not treated as equals by the Christians and allows some justification for Shylock’s strong intentions to have his bond.

·         Shylock is portrayed as a hard-hearted, stubborn, merciless man in this extract as he refuses to show Antonio any mercy and lessen his demands despite offers from Bassanio to pay twice what he was owed.

·         Pg 179 – Line 43 – “But say it is my humour” – This line shows the audience the extent of Shylock’s cruelty as he has no logical reason for demanding the pound of flesh. This portrayal of Shylock as being irrational and merciless would fit in with the Christian audience’s negative perception of Jews and would therefore fuel their feelings of dislike towards Shylock’s character.

·         Pg 181 – Line 69 – “wouldst thou have a serpent sting thee twice?” – Shylock’s insult towards Antonio with the word “serpent” would have strongly affected the audience’s feelings towards him as the Christians would find it very offensive to be associated with the serpent (serpent was evil in the Bible). However, the modern audience might feel more sympathetic towards Shylock as they sympathise with the way Antonio and the other Christians have ill-treated him and therefore feel that perhaps calling Antonio a “serpent” is justified.

·         Pg 191 – Line 172 – Shylock and Portia share a line. Portia asks his name and he immediately replies. This rapid reply could be interpreted as Shylock being too eager to have his justice and his pound of flesh and shows him as being cruel.

·         Even after Bassanio offers twice the amount of money, Shylock still refuses to take the money instead of the pound of flesh. As the stereotypical view of Jews is that they are miserly and money grabbing, the refusal of the money in place of the flesh emphasises Shylock’s strong desire for revenge upon Antonio.



·         Portia had power in Belmont. However she has to disguise herself as a man when she presents herself as Antonio’s lawyer in Venice. This shows the stereotypical view of women; that they are less intelligent than men and that their opinions would not be valued.

·         She is also shown to be law-abiding and just, as she would not bend the law for Antonio’s sake and also tried to appeal to Shylock to show Antonio mercy, as it is a god-like attribute. On the other hand, in the other half of the scene, Portia does not show Shylock any mercy after she manipulates the law against him.




The scene is set in a Court of Justice in Venice. As the court is in Venice, Portia’s power in Belmont is undermined and she has to resort to disguising herself as a man in order to regain that power.



Relation of Part to Whole

This extract ends with Shylock thinking that he would get his pound of flesh from Antonio. This creates tension with the Christian audience as they would not want Antonio to die and for Shylock to get what he wanted. However, the extract is only the beginning of Portia’s manipulation of the terms of the bond to save Antonio’s life and serves to build up tension in the play.