In The Merchant of Venice, what image of Shylock through his speeches in Act 3, scene 1 does Shakespeare present, and how does he present him in the play as a whole?

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andrewnightingale eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In this scene, Shylock is clearly presented as a vengeful, bitter man who is eager and insistent in getting his revenge. He is filled with bitterness and contempt for the man he accuses of having treated him in a profoundly unjust and prejudiced manner. He wishes to avenge the humiliation he had suffered at the hands of Antonio and wants the ultimate punishment. He seeks a pound of flesh from Antonio, which would obviously kill him - for a debt which Antonio could not repay.

So passionate is Shylock about this, that he will not allow anything to stand in his way. He is absolutely unforgiving and is not prepared to show any weakness or remorse as illustrated when Salarino asks him what he would do with a pound of Antonio's flesh:

To bait fish withal: if it will feed nothing else,
it will feed my revenge. He hath disgraced me, and
hindered me half a million; laughed at my losses,
mocked at my gains, scorned my nation, thwarted my
bargains, cooled my friends, heated mine

Shylock feels that he is justified in his quest, for he believes that the only reason Antonio had mistreated him was because he is Jewish, for no other reason. Through rhetorical questions, he illustrates that Jews are no different to Christians - they have the same feelings, passions, fears and so forth. He furthermore contends that both Christians and Jews are in agreement that the only recourse one has for another's prejudice and abuse is revenge.

It is also clear from this scene that Shylock is overwhelmingly materialistic. He clearly cares more about the valuables and money that his daughter, Jessica, had taken from him to elope than he does about her. He shockingly states that he would prefer her dead than lose his valuables as shown in the following lines:

I would my daughter
were dead at my foot, and the jewels in her ear!
would she were hearsed at my foot, and the ducats in
her coffin!

These are the words of a man obsessed by material possessions. He comes across as demented, a man who has lost all reason and who has not an iota of compassion. Truly, a cold-hearted man.

Shylock is depicted in much the same way throughout the play. He is relentless and stubborn and refuses to budge even in court. Even though Portia (disguised as a lawyer) offers him many times the amount owed by Antonio, he insists on having what he wants.

Proceed to judgment: by my soul I swear
There is no power in the tongue of man
To alter me: I stay here on my bond.

He hardly enquires after his daughter's well-being and indeed, shows more shock and surprise at having lost so much when he hears reports about her freely spending his money and giving away his jewels. Even at the trial he condemns and curses his daughter, wishing that she should have married one of Barrabas' heirs (the criminal chosen by the Jews to be released and Christ to be crucified).

I have a daughter;
Would any of the stock of Barrabas
Had been her husband rather than a Christian!

Shylock's remorseless vindictiveness brings about his own downfall, for he loses half his property and is forced to become a Christian at Antonio's request to the Duke. Antonio further requests that the court make a ruling that all Shylock's property should go to his daughter and her husband upon his death.

Shylock leaves the court a broken man.

Pray you, give me leave to go from hence;
I am not well: send the deed after me,
And I will sign it.

Read the study guide:
The Merchant of Venice

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