What does this passage from The Merchant of Venice mean?
Act 1, Scene 3
You, that did void your rheum upon my beard
And foot me as you spurn a stranger cur
Over your threshold: moneys is your suit
What should I say to you? Should I not say
'Hath a dog money? is it possible
A cur can lend three thousand ducats?' Or
Shall I bend low and in a bondman's key,
With bated breath and whispering humbleness, Say this;
"Fair sir, you spit on me on Wednesday last;
You spurn'd me such a day; another time
You call'd me dog; and for these courtesies
I'll lend you thus much moneys?
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This speech by Shylock evokes the social world in which he lives. For, as a Jew, Shylock rails in magnified language against Antonio, a Venetian who has castigated Shylock for his usury. Also, within the setting of this play, the Venetians limited Jewish merchants and moneylenders/pawnbrokers, making them live in "geti" (plural of "geto"). The guttural pronunciation of this word made it sound like ghetto, a word still used today to mark emargination. So, Shylock is perceived as inferior to the Venetian money lenders, who do not charge interest.
While more modern interpretations differ from the older ones, Shylock, the Jewish critic Harold Bloom affirms, is meant to be portrayed as comical. For, who would ask for a payment of a pound of flesh? Certainly, Antonio does not take Shylock seriously when he agrees to forfeit his flesh if he fails to pay the loan of three thousand ducats after three months.
In Act I, Scene 3 with Antonio's name as collateral, Bassanio approaches Shylock and requests a loan. Shylock refuses unless he speaks personally to Antonio; so, Antonio appears and states that he will break his custom of not participating in usury for this loan. But Shylock utters abuse against Antonio, asking why he should lend him money when Antonio has berated him for his usury, spat upon him and called him a cur. With sarcasm he asks if he should ask how a dog can have any money to lend. Perhaps Antonio would like it if Shylock cowtows and fawns before Antonio, thanking the Venetian for his "kindness" in allowing him to lend the money.
What should I say to you? Should I not say,
"Hath a dog money? Is it possible
A cur can lend three thousand ducats?" Or
Shall I bend low, and in a bondman's key,
With bates breath, and whisp'ring humbleness
"...and for these courtesies
I'll lend you thus much moneys"
The vituperative tone of this passage suggests that Shylock hates Antonio, who is a Christian and a competitor as a moneylender since more people borrow from him because he does not charge interest. Certainly, Shylock is distrustful of Antonio's motives for borrowing money because, at this point, he does not know that Antonio has all his capital invested in his ships that are at sea.
In this scene, Shylock is introduced and, thus, the friction between him and Antonio and other Ventian moneylenders is established. Shylock only considers this loan as a possible means of wreaking revenge upon Antonio, who fails to take him seriously as he agrees to the fantastic penalty of a pound of his own flesh for non-payment on the loan.
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