In The Merchant of Venice when Shylock is talking to himself about Antonio, what is the context in which the quote appears?
Shylock first speaks to himself about Antonio when Bassanio asks to borrow money. Bassanio has been living beyond his resources: he has lost his money “By something showing a more swelling port / Than my faint means would grant continuance.” The merchant Antonio is his closest friend, one who never refuses to financially support him. Bassanio asks for money in order to woo the wealthy Portia. If he marries her, he can repay Antonio all that he owes.
Antonio does not have this money on hand, so he goes to the Jewish moneylender Shylock. The two men have a history. In his aside, Shylock describes Antonio as looking like “a fawning publican.” He hates him for his sanctimonious beliefs and for bringing “down / The rate of usance” by lending money without interest. Antonio is also bad for business because he publicly condemns Shylock’s monetary practices and is antisemitic.
Shylock reveals in this monologue that he does not plan to forgive Antonio. He tells Bassanio that he is distracted by thinking of where he can get his hands on a sufficient sum. Shylock and Antonio argue, and Shylock asks why he should lend money to Antonio, who has spat on, insulted, and kicked him. Antonio suggests lending “it rather to thine enemy” and exacting a punishment if the money is not repaid on time.
Shylock agrees to this, saying that the penalty will be a pound of Antonio’s flesh. He insists that he is joking, for what use could he have of flesh? However, because of Shylock’s aside, the audience knows that Shylock despises Antonio and has no intention of forgiving him anytime soon.