The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare

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Essential Passage by Character: Antonio

ANTONIO:
Give me your hand, Bassanio: fare you well!
Grieve not that I am fallen to this for you;
For herein Fortune shows herself more kind
Than is her custom: it is still her use,
To let the wretched man out-live 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.
Commend me to your honourable wife:
Tell her the process of Antonio's end,
Say, how I lov'd you, speak me fair in death;
And, when the tale is told, bid her be judge
Whether Bassanio had not once a love.
Repent not you that you shall lose your friend,
And he repents not that he pays your debt;
For, if the Jew do cut but deep enough,
I'll pay it instantly with all my heart.
Act 4, Scene 1, Lines 272-288

Summary

Shylock, upon learning that Antonio’s ships have been lost at sea and all his wealth with them, has brought Antonio to trial to force him to pay the forfeit on his loan. The forfeit is a pound of Antonio's flesh, taken from that nearest his heart. Although Bassanio, newly married and with access to his wife Portia’s wealth, has offered to pay double or triple the amount of the loan, Shylock refuses. At this point, Shylock is not out for money: he is out for revenge. In the past, Antonio has looked down upon Shylock as a Jew and condemned him for usury (lending money and profiting by charging interest). This humiliation, coupled with the humiliation he has suffered as a Jew at the hands of a Christian, makes Shylock want to see Antonio die.

On top of this hatred, Shylock is bitter because his only child and daughter, Jessica, has eloped with Lorenzo, a friend of Antonio and also a Christian. This desertion by his child to join the realm of the Christians has made him more than eager to inflict punishment on the first Christian he can legally get his hands on—in this case, Antonio.

At the trial, Portia arrives disguised as a male lawyer (doctor of the law), to speak on Antonio’s behalf. The trial is held in the court overseen by the Duke of Venice, who has no choice but to try Antonio for his breaking of the contracted agreement that he willingly made with Shylock. Yet Portia pleads for mercy. Agreeing that the Duke cannot intercede because of the implications such interference would have on the legal system of Venice, Portia appeals to Shylock’s better nature. Yet Shylock refuses and the court is forced to grant Shylock his request.

The time has come for Antonio to pay the forfeit. He bares his chest, since according to their agreement, the pound of flesh must come from the area closest to his heart. This will mean almost certain death. Portia calls for a surgeon to be standing by, but Shylock objects because this was not detailed in the contract. Shylock has made sure to word the contract in such a way that there will be no room for Antonio to wriggle out of the punishment.

Knowing he is meeting his death, Antonio prepares to say good-bye. His first farewell is to Bassanio, his dearest friend. He tells...

(The entire section is 4,354 words.)