Act 3 The Merchant of Venice

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  1. Summary: Act III, scene i
    • Salarino and Solanio discuss the rumors that yet another
    • of Antonio’s ships has been wrecked. They are joined by Shylock,
    • who accuses them of having helped Jessica escape. The two Venetians
    • proudly take credit for their role in Jessica’s elopement. Shylock
    • curses his daughter’s rebellion, to which Salarino responds, “There
    • is more difference between thy flesh and hers than between jet and
    • ivory” (III.i.32–33).
    • Salarino then asks Shylock whether he can confirm the rumors of Antonio’s
    • lost vessels. Shylock replies that Antonio will soon be bankrupt
    • and swears to collect his bond. Salarino doubts Shylock’s resolve,
    • wondering what the old man will do with a pound of flesh, to which
    • Shylock chillingly replies that Antonio’s flesh will at least feed
    • his revenge. In a short monologue, Shylock says Antonio has mistreated
    • him solely because Shylock is a Jew, but now Shylock is determined
    • to apply the lessons of hatred and revenge that Christian intolerance
    • has taught him so well.

    • Salarino and Solanio head off to meet with Antonio, just
    • as Tubal, a friend of Shylock’s and a Jew, enters. Tubal announces
    • that he cannot find Jessica. Shylock rants against his daughter,
    • and he wishes her dead as he bemoans his losses. He is especially
    • embittered when Tubal reports that Jessica has taken a ring—given
    • to Shylock in his bachelor days by a woman named Leah, presumably
    • Jessica’s mother—and has traded that ring for a monkey. Shylock’s
    • spirits brighten, however, when Tubal reports that Antonio’s ships
    • have run into trouble and that Antonio’s creditors are certain Antonio
    • is ruined.
  2. Summary: Act III, scene ii
    • In Belmont, Portia begs Bassanio to delay choosing between
    • the caskets for a day or two. If Bassanio chooses incorrectly, Portia
    • reasons, she will lose his company. Bassanio insists that he make
    • his choice now, to avoid prolonging the torment of living without
    • Portia as his wife. Portia orders that music be played while her
    • love makes his choice, and she compares Bassanio to the Greek hero
    • and demigod Hercules. Like the suitors who have come before him,
    • Bassanio carefully examines the three caskets and puzzles over their inscriptions.
    • He rejects the gold casket, saying that “[t]he world is still deceived
    • with ornament” (III.ii.74), while the silver
    • he deems a “pale and common drudge / ’Tween man and man” (III.ii.103–104).
    • After much debate, Bassanio picks the lead casket, which he opens
    • to reveal Portia’s portrait, along with a poem congratulating him
    • on his choice and confirming that he has won Portia’s hand.
    • The happy couple promises one another love and devotion,
    • and Portia gives Bassanio a ring that he must never part with, as
    • his removal of it will signify the end of his love for her. Nerissa
    • and Gratiano congratulate them and confess that they too have fallen
    • in love with one another. They suggest a double wedding. Lorenzo
    • and Jessica arrive in the midst of this rejoicing, along with Salarino,
    • who gives a letter to Bassanio. In the letter, Antonio writes that
    • all of his ships are lost, and that Shylock plans to collect his
    • pound of flesh. The news provokes a fit of guilt in Bassanio, which
    • in turn prompts Portia to offer to pay twenty times the sum. Jessica,
    • however, worries that her father is more interested in revenge than
    • in money. Bassanio reads out loud the letter from Antonio, who asks
    • only for a brief reunion before he dies. Portia urges her husband
    • to rush to his friend’s aid, and Bassanio leaves for Venice.
  3. Analysis: Act III, scenes i–ii
    • The passage of time in The Merchant of Venice is
    • peculiar. In Venice, the three months that Antonio has to pay the
    • debt go by quickly, while only days seem to pass in Belmont. Shakespeare
    • juggles these differing chronologies by using Salarino and Solanio
    • to fill in the missing Venetian weeks.
    • As Antonio’s losses mount, Shylock’s villainous plan becomes apparent.
    • “[L]et him look to his bond,” he repeats single-mindedly (III.i.39–40).
    • Despite his mounting obsession with the pound of Antonio’s flesh,
    • however, he maintains his dramatic dignity. In his scene with the
    • pair of Venetians, he delivers the celebrated speech in which he
    • cries, “Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions,
    • senses, affections, passions . . . ? If you prick us do we not bleed?
    • If you tickle us do we not laugh? If you poison us do we not die?”
    • (III.i.49–55). We
    • are not meant to sympathize entirely with Shylock: he may have been
    • wronged, but he lacks both mercy and a sense of proportion. His
    • refusal to take pity on Antonio is later contrasted with the mercy
    • shown him by the Christians. But even as we recognize that Shylock’s
    • plans are terribly wrong, we can appreciate the angry logic of his
    • speech. By asserting his own humanity, he lays waste to the pretensions
    • of the Christian characters to value mercy, charity, and love above
    • self-interest.

    • Shylock’s dignity lapses in his scene with Tubal, who
    • keeps his supposed friend in agony by alternating between good and
    • bad news. Shylock lurches from glee to despair and back, one moment crying,
    • “I thank God, I thank God!” (III.i.86), and
    • the next saying, “Thou stick’st a dagger in me” (III.i.92).
    • But even here he rouses our sympathy, because we hear that Jessica
    • stole a ring given to him by his late wife and traded it for a monkey.
    • “It was my turquoise,” Shylock says. “I had it of Leah when I was
    • a bachelor. I would not have given it for a wilderness of monkeys”
    • (III.i.100–103). Villain though
    • he may be, we can still feel sorrow that Jessica—who is suddenly
    • a much less sympathetic character—would be heartless enough to steal
    • and sell a ring that her dead mother gave her father.
    • Bassanio’s successful choice seems inevitable and brings
    • the drama of the caskets to an end. Bassanio’s excellence is made
    • clear in his ability to select the correct casket, and his choice
    • brings the separated strands of the plot together. Portia, who is
    • the heroine of the play—she speaks far more lines than either Antonio
    • or Shylock—is free to bring her will and intelligence to bear on
    • the problem of Shylock’s pound of flesh. Once Lorenzo and Jessica
    • arrive, the three couples are together in Belmont, but the shadow
    • of Shylock hangs over their happiness.
    • Critics have noticed that Jessica is ignored by Portia
    • and the others at Belmont. Her testimony against her father may
    • be an attempt to prove her loyalty to the Christian cause, but the
    • coldness of Portia, Bassanio, and the others is an understandable
    • reaction—after all, she is a Jew and the daughter of their antagonist.
    • Lorenzo may love her, but she remains an object of suspicion for
    • the others.
  4. Summary: Act III, scene iii
    • Shylock escorts the bankrupt Antonio to prison. Antonio
    • pleads with Shylock to listen, but Shylock refuses. Remembering
    • the many times Antonio condemned him as a dog, Shylock advises the
    • merchant to beware of his bite. Assured that the duke will grant
    • him justice, Shylock insists that he will have his bond and tells
    • the jailer not to bother speaking to him of mercy. Solanio declares
    • that Shylock is the worst of men, and Antonio reasons that the Jew
    • hates him for bailing out many of Shylock’s debtors. Solanio attempts
    • to comfort Antonio by suggesting that the duke will never allow
    • such a ridiculous contract to stand, but Antonio is not convinced.
    • Venice, Antonio claims, is a wealthy trading city with a great reputation
    • for upholding the law, and if the duke breaks that law, Venice’s
    • economy may suffer. As Solanio departs, Antonio prays desperately
    • that Bassanio will arrive to “see me pay his debt, and then I care
    • not” (III.iii.36).
  5. Summary: Act III, scene iv
    • Lorenzo assures Portia that Antonio is worthy of all the
    • help she is sending him, and that if Portia only knew the depths
    • of Antonio’s love and goodness, she would be proud of her efforts
    • to save him. Portia replies that she has never regretted doing a
    • good deed, and goes on to say that she could never deny help to
    • anyone so close to her dear Bassanio. Indeed, Antonio and Bassanio
    • are so inseparable that Portia believes saving her husband’s friend
    • is no different than saving her own husband. She has sworn to live
    • in prayer and contemplation until Bassanio returns to her, and announces
    • that she and Nerissa will retire to a nearby monastery. Lorenzo
    • and Jessica, she declares, will rule the estate in her absence.
    • Portia then sends her servant, Balthasar, to Padua, where
    • he is to meet her cousin, Doctor Bellario, who will provide Balthasar
    • with certain documents and clothing. From there, Balthasar will
    • take the ferry to Venice, where Portia will await him. After Balthasar departs,
    • Portia informs Nerissa that the two of them, dressed as young men,
    • are going to pay an incognito visit to their new husbands. When
    • Nerissa asks why, Portia dismisses the question, but promises to
    • disclose the whole of her purpose on the coach ride to Venice.
  6. Summary: Act III, scene v
    • Quoting the adage that the sins of the father shall be
    • delivered upon the children, Launcelot says he fears for Jessica’s
    • soul. When Jessica claims that she will be saved by her marriage
    • to Lorenzo, Launcelot complains that the conversion of the Jews,
    • who do not eat pork, will have disastrous consequences on the price
    • of bacon. Lorenzo enters and chastises Launcelot for impregnating
    • a Moorish servant. Launcelot delivers a dazzling series of puns in
    • reply and departs to prepare for dinner. When Lorenzo asks Jessica
    • what she thinks of Portia, she responds that the woman is without
    • match, nearly perfect in all respects. Lorenzo jokes that he is
    • as good a spouse as Portia, and leads them off to dinner.

    Analysis: Act III, scenes iii–v
  7. Analysis: Act III, scenes iii–v
    • Once the play reaches Act III, scene iii, it is difficult
    • to sympathize with Shylock. Whatever humiliations he has suffered
    • at Antonio’s hands are repaid when he sees the Christian merchant
    • in shackles. Antonio may have treated the moneylender badly, but
    • Shylock’s pursuit of the pound of flesh is an exercise in naked
    • cruelty. In this scene, Shylock’s narrowly focused rhetoric becomes
    • monomaniacal in its obsession with the bond. “I’ll have my bond.
    • Speak not against my bond,” (III.iii.4) he
    • insists, and denies attempts at reason when he says, “I’ll have
    • no speaking. I will have my bond” (III.iii.17). When
    • Antonio tells Solanio that Shylock is getting revenge for his practice
    • of lending money without interest, he seems to miss the bigger picture.
    • Shylock’s mind has been warped into obsession not by Antonio alone,
    • but by the persecutions visited on him by all of Christian Venice.
    • He has taken Antonio as the embodiment of all his persecutors so
    • that, in his pound of flesh, he can avenge himself against everyone.

    • The institution of law comes to the forefront of the play
    • in these scenes, and we may be tempted to view the law as a sort
    • of necessary evil, a dogmatic set of rules that can be forced to
    • serve the most absurd requests. In the thirty-six lines that make
    • up Act III, scene iii, Shylock alludes to revenge in only the vaguest
    • of terms, but repeats the word “bond” no less than six times. He
    • also frequently invokes the concept of justice. Law is cast as the
    • very backbone of the Venetian economy, as Antonio expresses when
    • he makes the grim statement that “[t]he duke cannot deny the course
    • of law. . . . / . . . / Since that the trade and profit of the city
    • / Consisteth of all nations” (III.iii.26–31).
    • Trade is the city’s lifeblood, and an integral part of trade is
    • ensuring that merchants of all religions and nationalities are extended
    • the same protections as full-blooded Venetian citizens. In principle,
    • the duke’s inability to bend the law is sound, as the law upholds
    • the economy that has allowed Antonio and his friends to thrive.
    • However, Shylock’s furious rants about justice and his bond make
    • it seem as if his very law-abiding nature has perverted a bastion
    • of Christian uprightness.

    • Shylock remains in control of events in Venice, but Portia,
    • his antagonist, is now moving against him. Her cross-dressing is
    • a device typical of women in Shakespeare’s comedies. Indeed, the
    • play has already shown Jessica dressed as a boy in her escape from
    • Shylock’s house. Dressing as a man is necessary since Portia is
    • about to play a man’s part, appearing as member of a male profession.
    • The demands placed upon her by her father’s will are gone, and she
    • feels free to act and to prove herself more intelligent and capable
    • than the men around her.
    • The conversation between Jessica and Launcelot in Act
    • III, scene v, does little to advance the plot. It acts as comic
    • relief and conveys the impression of time passing while the various
    • characters converge on the Venetian courtroom. Jessica’s subsequent
    • description of Portia’s perfection to her husband is odd, given
    • how little attention Portia paid to her, but Jessica recognizes
    • that Portia is the center of the social world that she hopes to
    • join.
Card Set:
Act 3 The Merchant of Venice
2012-03-27 22:13:18

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