The Merchant of Venice Character and Theme Quotes

William Shakespeare

Character and Theme Quotes

Essential Passage by Character: Antonio

ANTONIO:
Give me your hand, Bassanio: fare you well!
Grieve not that I am fallen to this for you;
For herein Fortune shows herself more kind
Than is her custom: it is still her use,
To let the wretched man out-live his wealth,
To view with hollow eye, and wrinkled brow,
An age of poverty; from which lingering penance
Of such misery doth she cut me off.
Commend me to your honourable wife:
Tell her the process of Antonio's end,
Say, how I lov'd you, speak me fair in death;
And, when the tale is told, bid her be judge
Whether Bassanio had not once a love.
Repent not you that you shall lose your friend,
And he repents not that he pays your debt;
For, if the Jew do cut but deep enough,
I'll pay it instantly with all my heart.

Act 4, Scene 1, Lines 272-288

Summary
Shylock, upon learning that Antonio’s ships have been lost at sea and all his wealth with them, has brought Antonio to trial to force him to pay the forfeit on his loan. The forfeit is a pound of Antonio's flesh, taken from that nearest his heart. Although Bassanio, newly married and with access to his wife Portia’s wealth, has offered to pay double or triple the amount of the loan, Shylock refuses. At this point, Shylock is not out for money: he is out for revenge. In the past, Antonio has looked down upon Shylock as a Jew and condemned him for usury (lending money and profiting by charging interest). This humiliation, coupled with the humiliation he has suffered as a Jew at the hands of a Christian, makes Shylock want to see Antonio die.

On top of this hatred, Shylock is bitter because his only child and daughter, Jessica, has eloped with Lorenzo, a friend of Antonio and also a Christian. This desertion by his child to join the realm of the Christians has made him more than eager to inflict punishment on the first Christian he can legally get his hands on—in this case, Antonio.

At the trial, Portia arrives disguised as a male lawyer (doctor of the law), to speak on Antonio’s behalf. The trial is held in the court overseen by the Duke of Venice, who has no choice but to try Antonio for his breaking of the contracted agreement that he willingly made with Shylock. Yet Portia pleads for mercy. Agreeing that the Duke cannot intercede because of the implications such interference would have on the legal system of Venice, Portia appeals to Shylock’s better nature. Yet Shylock refuses and the court is forced to grant Shylock his request.

The time has come for Antonio to pay the forfeit. He bares his chest, since according to their agreement, the pound of flesh...

(The entire section is 1146 words.)

Essential Passage by Character: Shylock

SHYLOCK:
I am a Jew: 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? and if you wrong us, shall we not revenge? If we are
like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that. 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 villany you teach
me I will execute; and it shall go hard but I will better
the instruction.

Act 3, Scene 1, Lines 51-63

Summary
Solanio and Salarino, two friends of Antonio, have received news that the ship Antonio owns has wrecked in the English Channel. It is a rumor that they hope will prove unfounded (which it will be eventually, but almost too late). As they are discussing the consequences of this loss for Antonio, Shylock approaches. The elopement of his daughter Jessica with Lorenzo, a Christian and a friend of Antonios, has upset him.

Solanio, always eager to provoke the Jew, brags that he knows the tailor who made the page boy disguise that Jessica used to escape from Shylock’s home and onto the boat bound for Belmont. He also taunts Shylock, claiming that he had to know that his daughter was bound to leave home eventually. In reply to Solanio’s jests, Shylock says that Jessica is damned for her desertion. Salarino’s reply is that she will be so only if it is the devil that condemns her. He notes the vast difference between Shylock and his daughter.

To change the subject, Salarino asks Shylock if he has heard of the loss of Antonio’s ship. Shylock’s response is a complaint that this is yet another bad deal he has thrust upon him, one for which he will hold Antonio accountable. As for Antonio’s financial setback, Shylock sees this as a type of divine justice on Antonio, who has lent money without interest, thus taking business away from the Jew.

Seeing that Shylock is chiefly concerned about money, Salarino protests that there is little value in a pound of flesh for Shylock. But Shylock states that he will have that pound of flesh, for Antonio has humiliated him repeatedly in the past. The cause of Antonio’s animosity is simply because...

(The entire section is 1096 words.)

Essential Passage by Theme: Racial Enmity

SHYLOCK:
How like a fawning publican he looks!
I hate him for he is a Christian:
But more, for that, in low simplicity,
He lends out money gratis, and brings down
The rate of usance here with us in Venice.
If I can catch him once upon the hip,
I will feed fat the ancient grudge I bear him.
He hates our sacred nation; and he rails,
Even there where merchants most do congregate,
On me, my bargains, and my well-won thrift,
Which he calls interest. Cursed be my tribe
If I forgive him!

Act 1, Scene 3, Lines 36-47

Summary
Bassanio is in need of 3,000 ducats in order to court the rich heiress Portia. Having lived beyond his means, he turns to his friend Antonio for a loan. Antonio, a rich merchant, is more than happy to help his friend, but Antonio does not have that much money available in cash at the moment. He does, however, have three ships returning to Venice with goods that should more than cover that amount. Though he does not regularly borrow or lend money at interest, he will do so out of his friendship for Bassanio.

Bassanio, with an attempt at good will, acts friendly to Shylock. However, Shylock resists his advances. Shylock has a built-up resentment against Antonio, both for business and personal reasons.

As Antonio approaches the two, Shylock lets his feelings be known in an aside. Addressing the invisible audience, he tells how he hates Antonio first and foremost because he is a Christian. He also hates him as a competitor in a business that Shylock is almost forced into and in which he has an unfair disadvantage. Shylock acknowledges that, in his turn, Antonio hates Shylock because he is a Jew. In fact, according to Shylock, Antonio hates not only him but also the whole Jewish nation. It is for this humiliation that Shylock ultimately refuses to forgive Antonio.

In calling Antonio a “publican,” Shylock is making a reference to a Jewish citizen in the Roman Empire who collected taxes for Rome from his fellow Jews. As recorded in the New Testament, such people were looked upon as traitors...

(The entire section is 928 words.)

Essential Passage by Theme: Mercy

PORTIA:
The quality of mercy is not strain'd,
It droppeth, as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath: it is twice bless'd;
It blesseth him that gives, and him that takes:
'Tis mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown;
His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
But mercy is above this sceptred sway,
It is enthroned in the hearts of kings,
It is an attribute to God himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God's
When mercy seasons justice. Therefore, Jew,
Though justice be thy plea, consider this—
...

(The entire section is 1184 words.)