The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare

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In The Merchant of Venice, Bassanio invites Shylock to eat with Antonio and him. Why does Shylock refuse and become so bitter?

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In this scene, Bassanio visits Shylock to borrow three thousand ducats in Antonio’s name. Bassanio suggests that Shylock dine with him and Antonio, but Shylock refuses “to eat of the habitation which your prophet the Nazarite conjured the devil into.” He is referring to Jesus casting demons out of a man and into a herd of swine. Shylock does not want to eat pork, which is not Kosher, meaning that it is not in line with Jewish dietary laws.

Shylock has no problem talking or doing business with them, but the he considers eating with Christians to be as restricted as praying with them: “I will not eat with you, drink with you, nor pray with you.” His simple refusal shows a division between Christians and Jews.

Shylock hates Antonio, partly because “He hates our sacred nation, and he rails… / On me, my bargains and my well-won thrift.” Antonio protests Shylock’s moneylending because he charges interest. Shylock also says Antonio treats him harshly due to his religion: “You call me misbeliever, cut-throat dog, / And spit upon my Jewish gabardine.”

Shylock and Antonio possess a deep animosity towards one another, and now Antonio needs Shylock’s help. This is one reason why Shylock becomes so prickly when Antonio appears, and the invitation to dine with him seems to be yet another reminder that he and Antonio are irreconcilably different.

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