The Merchant of Venice By William Shakespeare Summary and Analysis Act III: Scene 3

Summary

In Venice, Antonio has been allowed to leave the jail, accompanied by his jailer. He hopes to speak with Shylock and plead for mercy, but Shylock refuses to listen. Five times while Antonio begs Shylock to let him speak, the moneylender repeats emphatically, "I'll have my bond!" Antonio has publicly called Shylock a "dog"; now Antonio will feel the fangs of that dog. Shylock refuses to be a "soft and dull-eyed fool" and "rent, sigh, and yield." He is absolutely certain that the Duke of Venice will see that justice is carried out according to the terms of the bargain.

Salarino tries to comfort Antonio but is unsuccessful. Antonio knows that one of the chief reasons why Shylock hates him so much is that Antonio often saved people who were in debt to Shylock by paying their debts for them. Thus he prevented Shylock from foreclosing and claiming their collateral. He also knows that the Duke of Venice must judge according to the letter of the law. Venice is an international trade center; money lending is a major business and cannot be treated lightly. Antonio must pay his debt according to his contract. He knows that Shylock seeks his life, and the law cannot save him. He is prepared to die if only Bassanio will "come / To see me pay his debt, and then I care not."

Analysis

In this short scene, the action of the bond plot quickens toward its climax at the beginning of Act IV. Here, Shylock's language indicates his obsession with a single idea through the repetition of a single word. The word is "bond," repeated twice at the opening of his speech, recurring again at lines 12 and 13, and a final time as Shylock makes his exit, deaf to any more pleading: "I will have my bond."

In stark contrast to Shylock's fiery outbursts is Antonio's quiet, almost fatalistic acceptance of his position. He sees that prayers are useless; later, he conceives of himself as being a "tainted wether of the flock." The phrase "He seeks my life" is delivered with the hopeless finality of one already on the way to execution. Such passive acceptance suggests that he is doomed and increases our dramatic anticipation of what is to come. Furthermore, Antonio himself points out that the Venetian state cannot save him; their commercial existence depends upon the rigorous enforcement of the law. Yet, Shakespeare has embedded in our minds how miserly Shylock is; now he teases us and keeps us in suspense: Will Portia's money be enough to satisfy Shylock and make him give up his obsession with the "bond" of a pound of flesh?

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