In Act I Scene iii of The Merchant of Venice, explain the stanza, "Mark you this, Bassanio, The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose...outside falsehood hath!"

Expert Answers
durbanville eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I have seen your comment about understanding what is being written in response to your questions about the content of The Merchant of Venice so I will do my best to simplify the answer. It seems you are looking for a direct translation of the text but unfortunately that does not often help. eNotes does have "eText" available. Check previous answers (and below) and follow the links provided after the answers and you will find them.  These are helpful in themselves but, for you to understand, the context (time and place) is important which is why I have tried to introduce the setting for each quote.

eNotes is a tool to help you better understand so please reread previous answers and first understand the setting and then compare the word use. Direct translations will do more to confuse than anything. 

In this particular quote, let's keep it simple:

Believe me Bassanio, the devil can repeat Scripture when he wants it to serve a purpose.  An evil person can seem holy quoting from the Bible ("give holy witness") but he is like a villain who turns the other cheek. On the outside, he appears like a tasty -  "goodly apple"  - but rotten on the inside ("at the heart."). Oh, "falsehood,"( that is, a person who is false) has a "goodly outside" meaning his external appearance is pleasant and he seems like a good person.  

Shylock has just told Antonio about the parable of Jacob, the Shepherd and Laban his uncle and now, Antonio, who feels that a Jew should not be allowed to use Scripture (the Bible) against him, is suggesting that Shylock is like the devil who could also quote Scripture but for very different purposes. 

Hopefully this is easier for you to understand. Previously I tried to explain each part as it went along but perhaps this suits you better with this short quote.

Read the study guide:
The Merchant of Venice

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question