The most horrible scene in Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice is Scene 1 of Act 4 which takes place in A Court of Justice in Venice. Here Shylock is preparing to collect his pound of flesh from Antonio by cutting it right out of his body. Shylock actually has a sharp knife in his hand and is making sure that the blade is as sharp as he can get it. It seems to the audience that there is no hope for Antonio because Shylock is intent on exacting his revenge. He is deaf to all entreaties, and he has the mighty law of Venice on his side. The following selection of dialogue encapsulates the situation:
Why dost thou whet they knife so earnestly?
To cut the forfeiture from that bankrupt there.
Not on thy sole, but on thy soul, harsh Jew,
Thou makest thy knife keen, but no metal can,
No, not the hangman's axe, bear half the keenness
Of thy sharp envy. Can no prayers pierce thee?
No, none that thou hast wit enough to make.
Evidently in the original play Shylock is using the sole of his shoe to whet the edge of his knife. In later versions he has been shown sharpening the blade on a whetstone and even on a grinding wheel. It is this blade-sharpening that creates the most horrible impression. The audience is expecting to see a savage operation and the stage covered with blood.