The Merchant of Venice

by William Shakespeare

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What literary devices are used in Antonio's "Fortune shows herself more kind" speech in The Merchant of Venice?

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The literary devices used in Antonio's "Fortune shows herself more kind" speech in The Merchant of Venice include personification, visual imagery, synecdoche, pun, repetition, and juxtaposition. Fortune is depicted as a woman who determines men’s fates. Images of features emphasize age and represent old people. “Cut” is a pun for both protection and harm. Opposite ideas are juxtaposed yet expressed through repeated words. “Heart” is an example of synecdoche for the body as well as a metaphor for love.

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In act IV, scene 4 of The Merchant of Venice, Antonio accepts his punishment for defaulting on a loan to Shylock. Before submitting to sacrificing one pound of flesh, he tells his friend Bassanio not to grieve. In fact, Antonio puts a positive spin on his unlucky fate:

For herein Fortune shows herself more kind
Than is her custom: it is still her use
To let the wretched man outlive his wealth,
To view with hollow eye and wrinkled brow
An age of poverty; from which lingering penance
Of such misery doth she cut me off.

Literary devices in this speech include personification, imagery, synecdoche, and pun. He personifies Fortune as “lady luck,” the controller of people’s fate. Antonio stresses that being unlucky (i.e. unable to repay Shylock’s loan) is lucky; Fortune is being uncharacteristically “kind” to him. Unlike most men, he will not be forced to live miserably into old age and poverty.

Shakespeare emphasizes the “wretched” state of advanced age through imagery. The “hollow eye and wrinkled brow” create a picture of a blind and infirm person. In fact, these images are examples of synecdoche: the eye and brow represent the entire body of an old man.

Antonio’s use of the word “cut” is a pun. Fortune prevents or cuts off the chance of Antonio having to endure old age—by having him submit to the probably fatal punishment of having a pound of flesh literally cut from his body.

Later in this speech, Shakespeare uses the literary devices of repetition and juxtaposition when Antonio tells Bassanio,

Repent but you that you shall lose your friend,
And he repents not that he pays your debt.

The repetition of “repent,” “you,” and “he” drives home the idea of remorse, yet Antonio actually stresses that he does not regret his fate. In fact, Shakespeare juxtaposes the idea of repenting with the idea of not repenting. Antonio tells Bassanio to lament only that he will lose his friend (i.e., Antonio himself), not Antonio’s decision to take out a loan for Bassanio. On the other hand, Antonio himself does not have any regrets for helping Bassanio despite the consequences.

The speech ends with Antonio declaring,

For if the Jew do cut but deep enough,
I'll pay it presently with all my heart.

Again, Shakespeare uses synecdoche as well as metaphor. Antonio’s “heart” (which Shylock might cut out) represents his body; if his heart were extracted, he would die, thus paying his debt with his body. “Heart” is also a metaphor for Antonio’s love for Bassanio. He willingly pays the debt by giving up his life for Bassanio out of love.

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