How does Shakespeare make the Act 3 Scene 1 (A public place) a significant moment in the play "the merchant of venice"? 

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sciftw eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Shakespeare makes Act 3, Scene 1 of the "Merchant of Venice" a significant moment in the play, because Shakespeare causes his audience to waffle back and forth about whether or not Shylock is truly a villainous character.  Before this, the audience is certain that Shylock is not to be liked. He is a strict money lender who gouges his customers on interest rates. The fact that he loaned Antonio money interest free doesn't endear him to the audience because of Shylock's "pound of flesh" ultimatum. It's weird, creepy, and gross.  

Act 3, Scene 1 shows Shylock as much more human. There are moments where an audience feels sympathetic to him. Shylock feels like he has been persecuted by Christian characters like Antonio, and Shylock expresses that hurt with the following:

 “Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions . . . ? If you prick us do we not bleed? If you tickle us do we not laugh? If you poison us do we not die?”

An audience knows that Shylock is giddy with anticipation at getting his pound of flesh, so an audience isn't entirely swayed to sympathy. But the quote does show an audience that he is a human with feelings.  

That sympathetic tugging by Shakespeare is done again late in the scene when the audience learns that Jessica has sold Shylock's wife's wedding ring to buy a monkey. He is visibly hurt by this betrayal, and who wouldn't be? It shows that he is capable of love, affection, and endearment. So again, Shakespeare paints Shylock as someone that we can relate to and be sympathetic toward. It makes Shylock a much deeper character and causes audiences to re-examine their initial snap judgment of Shylock. 

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The Merchant of Venice

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