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The Merchant of Venice revolves around the polarity between the avarice for gold and the Christian qualities of mercy and compassion that lie beneath the flesh. Of course, Shakespeare's manipulation of language is extraordinary, providing humor and shock, both.
In what is considered the most complicated scene in the development of Act I, Scene 3 introduces the focal point of the play: the proposal that Antonio borrow three thousand ducats from the usurer Shylock, a Venetian Jew who charges interest and is loathed by the Christians for his unethical conduct. But, Shylock is a comic villain as he rails against Antonio, using a simile: "How like a fawning publican he looks!" (l.36), and a metaphor "I will feed fat the ancient grudge I bear him" (l.42) in which "feed fat" is an unstated comparison of fueling/increasing his hatred for Antonio. He then draws a comparison between his ways of making money and Jacob's method of obtaining sheep from another man, one that Antonio ridicules. Antonio advises Bassanio to be wary of Shylock's specious argument as he metaphorically compares Shylock to the devil and then employs a simile using "like":
The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose.
An evil soul producing holy witness
Is like a villain with a smiling cheek;
A goodly apple rotten at the heart;
O, what a goodly outside falsehood hath! (1.3.97-101)
Of course, Shylock's monolgue in retaliation for the insults of Antionio contains figurative language. You call me,—misbeliever, cut-throat dog, [metaphor](l.110) ....
You, that did void your rheum upon my beard,
And foot me, as you spurn a stranger cur [simile] (ll.116-117)
Shall I bend low, and in a bondman's key,
With 'bated breath, and whispering humbleness,[metaphors for being humble] (ll.122-124)
In Act IV, Scene 1, after a humorous scene, the climax of the play comes. In this scene are what are considered Shylock's two greatest achievements. Both directed at Venice--the "gaping pig" rhapsody and the oration on Venetian slavery. In lines 51-53, Shylock uses personification,
Master of passion, sways it to the mood
Of what it likes, or loathes.
Then, in his speech on slavery, Shylock uses similes:
You have among you many a purchas'd slave,
Which, like your asses, and your dogs, and mules,
You use in abject and in slavish parts, (ll.91-93)
Antonio, too, uses figurative language as his expresses his plight with a metaphor:
Despite the vituperations and conflicts between Shylock and Antonio, there is a certain ambivalence where there really are no victories.
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