The Merchant of Venice

by William Shakespeare
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In The Merchant of Venice, what does "if I catch him once upon the hip" mean?

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In The Merchant of Venicewhen Shylock realizes that he may have the Christian merchant Antonio at a disadvantage—"catch him once upon the hip"—he delights in the idea of being able to retaliate against his rival who loans money at no interest. This practice of Antonio's forces Shylock to charge lower rates of interest on his loans if he has any hope at all of profiting from lending money. Furthermore, Shylock hates Antonio because he is a Christian and a native to Venice, whereas Shylock is a Jew and is disliked and reviled by Antonio and others. (In Venice Jews were made to live in a certain district called the "ghetto." In fact, the word ghetto originated from this name of the Jewish section in Venice, Italy.)

Knowing that Antonio's finances are invested with his ships at sea, Shylock makes the condition of the loan not in money, but in flesh. He is willing to gamble that the three ships on distant and dangerous seas may not all return. Then, if he wins, Antonio will die from having a pound of flesh extracted from his body. With Antonio out of the way, the mercenary Shylock can become a very wealthy man. He will also get his revenge on Antonio if the Venetian loses the bet.

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Shylock says this of Antonio in Act 1, Scene 3.  Here are lines 38 - 43:

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.

"Catch him upon the hip" is a figure of speech from wrestling. Apparently it means to gain an advantage over him, as if to throw him to the ground. So far, Shylock has been unable to gain any kind of hold on Antonio to do him harm, but now he sees his chance.

Shylock does not just hate Antonio on principle for being a Christian.  He has a personal hatred for him.  He feels as if he and Antonio have been wrestling each other for control of the money market in Venice.  Antonio is willing to lend money at no interest, and this makes it harder for Shylock to charge interest and make a living.  Apparently, this has been going on for some time.  In another place, Antonio tells us that Shylock hates him because Antonio has sometimes come to the rescue of people who owed large sums to Shylock.

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