The Merchant of Venice

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Shylock Character Analysis

A Jewish moneylender in Venice who has been embittered by years of abuse at the hands of Venetian Christians and Antonio, the merchant, in particular. Shylock's anger and bitterness lead him to sign a contract with Antonio, in which Antonio puts up a pound of his own flesh as collateral for a loan. When Antonio can't cover his loan, Shylock refuses to show any mercy and insists that the law be upheld and that he get to take his pound of flesh. The other characters, including Shylock's own daughter, Jessica, consider him inhuman—bestial or demonic. However, their treatment of Shylock helps illuminate the prejudice and hypocrisy that lies behind many of their stated ideals of human brotherhood and Christian fellowship.

Shylock Quotes in The Merchant of Venice

The The Merchant of Venice quotes below are all either spoken by Shylock or refer to Shylock. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Prejudice and Intolerance Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Simon & Schuster edition of The Merchant of Venice published in 2009.
Act 1, scene 3 Quotes
I will buy with you, sell with you, talk with you, walk with you, and so following; but I will not eat with you, drink with you, nor pray with you.
Related Characters: Shylock (speaker), Bassanio
Page Number: 1.3.35-38
Explanation and Analysis:
Shylock utters these words during his first interaction with Antonio and Bassanio in the play, an interaction which reveals how complicated a figure Shylock will become in The Merchant of Venice. He will have more pitiful moments like this, despite his more general role as antagonist who seems to literally seek Antonio's flesh and blood. Here, as Shylock describes the rules he follows as he interacts with society, he also expresses the categorical isolation he feels as a member of the Jewish community, who is largely excluded from social aspects within the Christian Venice. He can participate in the public space of the marketplace and engage in commerce (and "buy," "sell," and "walk" with others), but he cannot (or will not) enter the more intimate spaces (to engage in worship or participate in meals). Here, though, Shylock is delivering these words in a public street; we cannot be sure whether he is accurately describing his own feelings of isolation, or merely harnessing this social reality to suit his needs in this conversation. 
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The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose.
Related Characters: Antonio (speaker), Shylock
Page Number: 1.3.107
Explanation and Analysis:

As Antonio strives to procure a loan from Shylock, and Shylock displays the full force of his animosity, Antonio does not restrain himself from denigrating Shylock -- even as "the devil." Of course, Antonio is here providing a general saying, but the thinly veiled implication is that Shylock is functioning as the devilish figure in this interaction. Antonio has, at other occasions, more directly spat on Shylock or referred to him as a dog, so this wording is perhaps unsurprising. 

It also, though, emphasizes the extent to which the Jewish and Christian communities in this play isolate themselves from each other theologically. The devil is the common enemy of both religious traditions, but in this colloquial saying, Antonio is associating Shylock with the devil.

Many a time and oft
In the Rialto you have rated me
About my moneys and my usances:
Still I have borne it with a patient shrug,
For sufferance is the badge of all our tribe.
You call me misbeliever, cut-throat dog,
And spit upon my Jewish gaberdine,
And all for use of that which is mine own.
Related Characters: Shylock (speaker), Antonio
Page Number: 1.3.116-123
Explanation and Analysis:

As in many other moments of The Merchant of Venice, Shylock here describes the type of prejudice and discrimination that he faces, and that "all our tribe" faces, in Venice. Yet here Shylock also explains that the very individuals who denigrate him as a "misbeliever" or "cut-throat dog," also use him as a money-lender, borrowing his own funds -- "that which is mine own." Shylock exposes the unfortunate contradiction that Venetians mistreat the individuals whom they need, the money-lenders who fulfill an essential and respectable function in society. The injustices he lists here also serve to make Shylock a more complex character -- one who is portrayed as a caricatural villain, but who has possibly been made that way by the prejudice of a "Christian" society.

Let the forfeit
Be nominated for an equal pound
Of your fair flesh, to be cut off and taken
In what part of your body pleaseth me.
Related Characters: Shylock (speaker), Antonio
Page Number: 1.3.160-163
Explanation and Analysis:

While Shylock is bartering with Antonio and Bassanio in order to arrange their new loan, he decides to ask for an unusual form of repayment, should Antonio default on the loan: a pound of Antonio's flesh. This strange request captures the way that human actors are intrinsically associated with their financial means in this play, but it also provides a platform for subsequent reflections on honesty (would Antonio truly allow his blood to be spilt over a legal agreement?), mercy (might Shylock be overcome with mercy shortly before he would witness Antonio become injured), and violence (would this act of violence be enough to satiate Shylock's lust for revenge)? 

Act 3, scene 1 Quotes
If it will feed nothing else, it will feed my revenge.
Related Characters: Shylock (speaker), Antonio
Page Number: 3.1.52-53
Explanation and Analysis:

Salarino claims to be "sure" that Shylock will not take Antonio's flesh because there is no clear use for Antonio's skin and blood (as Salarino implies with his blunt question "what's that good for?"). Shylock glibly comments that Antonio's flesh could be used to "bait fish," before he more directly claims that Antonio's flesh would "feed my revenge." It would allow Shylock to finally avenge the way that Antonio and others mistreat him (and other members of the Jewish community). By claiming that acts of vengeance would "feed" his revenge, Shylock implies that revenge is a natural human desire, like sexual desire or physical hunger -- and it is sated not by anything technically "useful," but only by inflicting more pain and spreading one's bitterness to others.

I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? Fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that.
Related Characters: Shylock (speaker)
Page Number: 3.1.57-67
Explanation and Analysis:

In the street, Shylock converses with Salanio and Salarino. He discusses his daughter Jessica's sudden leaving, and Salarino asks whether Antonio has lost his wealth at sea, from shipwrecks. Shylock comments that he will indeed seek a pound of Antonio's flesh if Antonio cannot repay his debt. After Salarino expresses his surprise, asking how Shylock could actually use Antonio's flesh for any purpose, Shylock quickly replies that Antonio's flesh could bait fish -- and suit his lust for revenge. Shylock describes that he has a drive for revenge, as any other individual supposedly does, and then gives us this famous declaration that Jewish individuals are largely the same as any others. 

This plea for the Jewish people is thereby inscribed within Shylock's lust for revenge, and should not be taken out of context. Although The Merchant of Venice does certainly include Shylock's passionate defenses of himself and of his people, this message against stereotypes is tainted by its association with Shylock's individual bloodthirsty personality. The play does not form a clear platform for crying out against anti-Semitism, although it certainly depicts the prejudice that confronts a people of individuals, which perhaps unfortunately includes Shylock.

The villainy you teach me I will execute, and it shall go hard, but I will better the instruction.
Related Characters: Shylock (speaker)
Page Number: 3.1.70-72
Explanation and Analysis:
As Shylock closes his defense of his behavior, and his larger declaration that Jewish and Christian peoples are not as different as they seem to be in Venice, he claims that he has learned his lust for greed and revenge from the Christian individuals who have so mistreated him. He suggests that his own behavior is a reaction to the intolerance which he has faced and which he is currently confronting. He alludes to the fact that Venice's current social currents have been prefaced by prior stigmatization and discrimination, and this perspective certainly makes him a more complicated and sympathetic character than he may have initially appeared to be. 
Act 4, scene 1 Quotes
Which is the merchant here, and which the Jew?
Related Characters: Portia (speaker), Shylock, Antonio
Page Number: 4.1.176
Explanation and Analysis:

As Portia is pretending to be a young lawyer, she asks one of the most simple yet central questions of he play: who is the Jew, and who is the merchant? This suggests that Jews are so defined by their religious and ethnic identities that their Jewishness obfuscates their professional roles; thus, we see the play's prejudices. More broadly, though, this moment captures the importance of societal functions in constructing an individual's identity. A person's identity is always somewhat questionable and ambiguous because it only exists in relation to other phenomena and systems of exchange larger than any one person. Arguably, Shylock is only the dehumanized "Jew" because society has forced him to play that role, while Antonio has been able to inhabit the more socially-approved role of "merchant."

The quality of mercy is not strain'd,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
'T is mightiest in the mightiest: it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown;
His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
But mercy is above this sceptred sway,
It is enthroned in the hearts of kings,
It is an attribute to God himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God's,
When mercy seasons justice. Therefore, Jew,
Though justice be thy plea, consider this,
That in the course of justice none of us
Should see salvation: we do pray for mercy;
And that same prayer doth teach us all to render
The deeds of mercy.
Related Characters: Portia (speaker), Shylock
Page Number: 4.1.190-208
Explanation and Analysis:

Portia's eloquent speech describing and lauding the benefits of mercy extends beyond this theme to other notions which appear and reappear throughout the play. Here, in the courtroom, this speech is not exactly a defense of Antonio according to Venetian law; it instead transgresses into religious territory. It raises questions about public versus private duties, religious salvation versus worldly justice, Old Testament versus New Testament ideals, and antagonistic relationships versus social cohabitation. Yet Portia's speech addresses so many other concerns because it almost entirely consists of abstractions. Thus it's not surprising that Portia's words don't even begin to appease Shylock's lust for revenge, or his specific desire to attain a piece of Antonio's physical body.

My deeds upon my head! I crave the law,
The penalty and forfeit of my bond.
Related Characters: Shylock (speaker)
Page Number: 4.1.213-214
Explanation and Analysis:

Shylock is the first to respond to Portia's famous speech about the benefits of mercy. As Shylock advocates that Antonio's flesh should indeed be cut, he justifies his desire by appealing to "the law." As he disguises his craving for revenge as a case of "I crave the law," he suggests the connection between volatile personal emotions and the authoritative, ever impersonal realm of the law. Shylock specifically longs for "the forfeit of my bond." He also elicits questions of ownership and possession; Shylock had a legal claim to Antonio's flesh -- the skin that only physically belongs to Antonio. 

Nay, take my life and all; pardon not that:
You take my house when you do take the prop
That doth sustain my house; you take my life
When you do take the means whereby I live.
Related Characters: Shylock (speaker)
Page Number: 4.1.390-393
Explanation and Analysis:

Once the Duke has declared that half of Shylock's wealth will go to Antonio and the other half will go to the state, Shylock, in his dismay, provides a powerful description of the connection between one's life and one's wealth. He claims that his property sustains his life, so taking his property is the same as taking his life. Similarly, for Shylock, his wealth sustains his property, so an individual takes his property by taking his wealth. Here, Shylock articulates an indirect but powerful link between his life and his wealth, a direct correspondence which is not surprising given Shylock's generally greedy nature and concern with material possessions. Yet, after Shylock utters this statement, Portia immediately asks Antonio what "mercy" he might render Shylock, continuing to insert the notion of mercy into the courtroom even while simultaneously doling out arguably cruel, unmerciful punishments to Shylock. 

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Shylock Character Timeline in The Merchant of Venice

The timeline below shows where the character Shylock appears in The Merchant of Venice. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act 1, scene 3
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Back in Venice, Bassanio is trying to convince Shylock, a Jewish moneylender, to lend him 3,000 ducats for three months, with Antonio bound to... (full context)
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Shylock then asks whether he can speak with Antonio himself. Bassanio invites Shylock to dine with... (full context)
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By coincidence, at this moment, Antonio appears. Although Shylock notices Antonio at once, at first he ignores him, remarking privately that he harbors an... (full context)
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Antonio approaches Shylock, saying that he ordinarily would not take part in a transaction involving interest but that,... (full context)
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Shylock then defends his practice of charging interest by citing the Biblical story of Jacob. When... (full context)
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Outraged that Shylock would cite the Bible in order to defend what Venetian Christians consider to be the... (full context)
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Teasing Antonio for getting so worked up, Shylock then goes on to propose an unusual compromise. He says that, this time, he will... (full context)
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...Bassanio's nervousness about binding his friend to such a potentially dangerous contract. Talking to himself, Shylock gleefully hints at the fact that he has achieved the first step in his still-mysterious... (full context)
Act 2, scene 2
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Launcelot Gobbo, Shylock's servant, is debating whether to leave his master. Jabbering to himself, he imagines that a... (full context)
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Launcelot has just resolved to leave Shylock for good when his father, the blind Old Gobbo, appears. Gobbo asks Launcelot whether he... (full context)
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...reveals that he's decided to go work for Bassanio before he is entirely corrupted by Shylock's influence: "I am a Jew if I serve the Jew any longer," (2.2.106–7) he says. (full context)
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...Gobbo seize the opportunity and beg Bassanio to employ Launcelot so that he can escape Shylock's service. Once he figures out what they're asking, Bassanio readily accepts. Rushing off, Launcelot assures... (full context)
Act 2, scene 3
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At Shylock's house, Launcelot bids farewell to Shylock's daughter, Jessica. Jessica says that she will miss him—his... (full context)
Act 2, scene 4
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...writ on" (2.4.12). When Launcelot reports that he is headed back to his former master, Shylock's, house, to invite Shylock to dinner on behalf of his new master, Bassanio, Lorenzo asks... (full context)
Act 2, scene 5
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On the street in front of his house, Shylock reprimands Launcelot for deserting him, and warns Launcelot that Bassanio will be a harsher master... (full context)
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Launcelot slyly jokes that Shylock will in fact see a "masque" that night. Irritated and not knowing what Launcelot is... (full context)
Act 2, scene 6
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As planned, Gratiano and Salerio arrive at Shylock's house in their costumes with the other members of Lorenzo's party—only Lorenzo is late. As... (full context)
Act 2, scene 8
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...Jessica and Lorenzo's elopement and Bassanio's departure for Belmont to woo Portia. They laugh about Shylock's desperate search for Jessica. Upon learning that Jessica had eloped and stolen his money, Shylock... (full context)
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...though, when Solanio remarks that Antonio may be the one who ends up paying for Shylock's loss. Salerio reports that he has heard rumors that a Venetian ship has been wrecked.... (full context)
Act 3, scene 1
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...Antonio will be ruined because of the "cruel bond" (contract) that Antonio has made with Shylock. Just then, Shylock himself appears. (full context)
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Shylock accuses Solanio and Salerio of having helped Jessica elope from his house. They boast that,... (full context)
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Solanio then asks whether Shylock has heard any more news of Antonio's losses at sea. Shylock says he has, and... (full context)
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Shylock goes on to say that a Jew has "hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions" and... (full context)
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...would like to see Solanio and Salerio. As they leave, Tubal, a Jewish friend of Shylock's enters. Tubal has been searching for Jessica in Genoa, and has heard rumors of her,... (full context)
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Shylock is somewhat consoled, though, when Tubal reminds him that Antonio has lost another of his... (full context)
Act 3, scene 2
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...reads the letter. He tells Portia about the money he allowed Antonio to borrow from Shylock and of Antonio's lost ships. Salerio curses Shylock's brutality: "Never did I know a creature... (full context)
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...aloud. In it, Antonio confesses to that there is no chance that he will survive Shylock's extracting of the pound of flesh. However, Antonio insists tells that all debts between himself... (full context)
Act 3, scene 3
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Back in Venice, Shylock escorts Antonio to prison, accompanied by a jailer and Solanio. Shylock tauntingly tells the jailer... (full context)
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Antonio gives up on asking for mercy. He knows that Shylock wants revenge on him because he has paid off the debts of so many people... (full context)
Act 3, scene 5
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...and teases that he is worried that Jessica is damned unless it turns out that Shylock is not actually her father. Jessica retorts that her marriage to Lorenzo will save her.... (full context)
Act 4, scene 1
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In Venice, the Duke opens Antonio's trial by saying that he pities Antonio because Shylock is an "inhuman wretch uncapable of pity" (4.1.3–4). The Duke has attempted to persuade Shylock... (full context)
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The Duke summons Shylock into court, and tells him that everyone believes that he means only to terrify Antonio... (full context)
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Shylock insists that he wants his "bond," and that if the Duke refuses him it will... (full context)
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Bassanio, who is in the gathered crowd, tries to argue with Shylock. But Antonio interrupts, telling Bassanio it's no use: you might as well try to argue... (full context)
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The Duke asks how Shylock can expect mercy if he himself doesn't show it. Shylock replies that he needs no... (full context)
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...disguised as a lawyer's clerk. She presents a letter to the Duke from Bellario. Meanwhile, Shylock wets his knife in anticipation of a verdict in his favor and Gratiano curses Shylock... (full context)
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Portia tells Shylock that Venetian law is indeed on his side. Therefore, she begs him to show mercy,... (full context)
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Portia asks if Antonio has the money to repay Shylock. Bassanio responds that he has offered up to ten times the sum of money owed,... (full context)
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Portia states that Shylock is entitled to take a pound of flesh nearest Antonio's heart. She begs him, once... (full context)
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...present as it's unlikely they would be pleased by such sentiments. Privately, in an aside, Shylock comments in surprise at the nature of Christian husbands, who would so willingly allow their... (full context)
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But just as Shylock is about to cut into Antonio, Portia reminds Shylock that the contract doesn't grant him... (full context)
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Shylock, stunned, quickly backtracks, and decides to take Bassanio's prior offer of 9000 ducats. Bassanio is... (full context)
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Shylock says that he will give up his suit. But, Portia tells him that another Venetian... (full context)
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Stepping in, the Duke declares that he will show Shylock the "difference of our spirit" (4.1.364). He will spare Shylock's life, but Shylock must give... (full context)
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When the Duke accepts these conditions, Portia mockingly demands: "Are you contended, Jew?" Shylock concedes that he is. Portia tells the clerk to draw up a deed. Shylock says... (full context)
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...also thank Portia. Bassanio tries give Portia the 3000 ducats he'd brought to pay off Shylock, but Portia refuses. Bassanio insists that Portia take some gift as a token of thanks.... (full context)
Act 4, scene 2
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Portia, still dressed as "Balthazar," instructs Nerissa, still dressed as the pageboy, to go to Shylock's house and bring the deed for him to sign, giving half of his property to... (full context)
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...it, but declines the invitation to dinner. Then she asks him to show Nerissa to Shylock's house. (full context)
Act 5, scene 1
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...her clerk—Nerissa—has good news for him as well. Nerissa reports: she has a deed from Shylock, leaving all of his property to Lorenzo and Jessica when he dies. (full context)