Act I Scene II in the Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare
The overwhelming impression from Act I, scene iii, is of the tension
between the two main characters, Shylock and Antonio. We learn that
this tension is owing to the way Shylock has been treated by Antonio
in the past, and yet in their verbal battles Shylock appears unable to
take full advantage of Antonio needing his help and the unique power
this should give him. Throughout this scene whenever Shylock wishes to
rub in the change in their positions, Antonio sticks to his principles
and resists, and it is Shylock who has to change tactics. However, at
the close of the scene Shylock has ...view middle of the document...
When Shylock will not give a direct answer and
quotes the biblical story of Jacob to justify charging interest
Antonio becomes sarcastic, he calls him 'sir' and mocks him by asking
'is your gold and silver ewes and rams?' (lines 88; 92). With
Shylock's crude joke about these breeding Antonio interrupts him with
an angry insult 'The devil can cite Scripture' and says he is 'like a
villain' (lines 95; 97). After Shylock rubs in that Antonio 'now
appears' to 'need my help' (line 111) and lists Antonio's past
insults, Antonio appears to lose patience. He naively tells Shylock
nothing will change and he should lend him the money as an 'enemy' and
then 'Exact the penalty' (lines 132; 134). Finally, Antonio again
naively agrees to Shylock's bond despite Bassanio's warnings. He
listens instead to Shylock and is deceived by his claims of
'friendship' and even that 'The Hebrew will turn Christian' (lines
165;175). This is proved by his farewell to Shylock 'Hie thee, gentle
Jew' (line 174). This change to a positive attitude towards Shylock is
perhaps owing to the fact that he has succeeded in getting the loan to
help his friend Bassanio. His judgement seems clouded because despite
Shylock listing some very good reasons why Shylock should hate
Antonio, he is still fooled into believing his claim of friendship.
Significantly, Bassanio sees through Shylock 'I like not fair terms in
a villain's mind', repeating Antonio's earlier simile of 'like a
villain' (lines 176; 97). However Antonio's confidence in being able
to easily repay the loan on time naively fools him into gladly
accepting Shylock's offer.
There is a difference between Shylock's pretended attitude towards
Antonio and the real attitude he reveals in his aside. There is much
irony in Shylock saying openly that Christians are taught to 'suspect/
The thoughts of others!' since his own thoughts are murderous; he
wants to 'catch him once upon the hip' to 'feed fat the ancient
grudge' (lines 158-9; 43-4). This means that the audience suspects
everything Shylock says to them as he is two-faced. However, as
mentioned above, Bassanio suspects 'a villain's mind' at work (line
176) and warns the audience of what is to come.
Although it is clear to the audience that Shylock is deceitful, it is
also possible for the audience to gain the impression that he is
making the most of the opportunity to justify his lending practices.
There is irony and even sarcasm when Shylock first speaks to Antonio,
'Your worship was the last man in our mouths' since his aside was an
oath 'cursed be my tribe/ If I forgive him!' (lines 57; 48-9).
However, the references to 'tribe' here, and the later biblical
references to Jacob's story, relate to Shylock's Jewish religion and
can give insight into his view of things. In contrast to Antonio he
may believe that...