Analysis of Act One Scene 3 of William Shakespeare's the Merchant of Venice
Shylock, a Jewish moneylender, agrees to loan Bassanio three -thousand
ducats for a term of three months. Bassanio assures Shylock that
Antonio will guarantee the loan, but Shylock is doubtful because
Antonio's wealth is currently invested in business ventures that may
fail. In the end, however, Shylock decides that Antonio's guarantee of
the loan will be sufficient assurance, and asks to speak with him.
When Antonio arrives, Shylock, in an aside, confesses his hatred for
the man. Antonio, Shylock says, is a Christian who lends money without
interest, which makes more difficult the practice of usury, in which
money is lent out at exorbitant interest rates. Shylock is also
incensed by Antonio's frequent public denunciations of Shylock.
Antonio makes it clear to Shylock that he is not in the habit of
borrowing or lending money, but has decided to make an exception on
behalf of his friend Bassanio. Their conversation leads Antonio to
chastise the business of usury, which Shylock defends as a way to
thrive. As he calculates the interest on Bassanio's loan, Shylock
remembers the many times that Antonio has cursed him, calling him a
"misbeliever, cut-throat, dog / And spit upon [his] Jewish gaberdine"
(I.iii.107-108). Antonio responds that he is likely to do so again,
and insists that Shylock lend him the money as an enemy. Such an
arrangement, Antonio claims, will make it easier for Shylock to exact
a harsh penalty if the loan is not repaid. Assuring Antonio that he
means to be friends, Shylock offers to make the loan without interest.
Instead, he suggests, seemingly in jest, that Antonio forfeit a pound
of his own flesh should the loan not be repaid in due time. Bassanio
warns Antonio against entering such an agreement, but Antonio assures
him that he will have no trouble repaying the debt, as his ships will
soon bring him wealth that far exceeds the value of the loan. Shylock
attempts to dismiss Bassanio's suspicions, asking what profit he
stands to make by procuring a pound of Antonio's flesh. As Shylock
heads off to the notary's office to sign the bond, Antonio remarks on
Shylock's newfound generosity: "The Hebrew will turn Christian; he
grows kind" (I.iii.174). Bassanio remains suspicious of the
arrangement, but Antonio reminds him that his ships will arrive within
the next two months.
Audiences impression of Shylock from his soliloquy
· He comes across as sly, cunning and scheming and wants to catch
· Shylock's malice seems to stem, at least in part, from the
unkindness of his Christian colleagues.
· Shylock vividly illustrates the depth of this contempt, wondering
aloud why he should lend Antonio money when Antonio has voided his
"rheum," or spit, on Shylock's beard, and he...