The Merchant of Venice


William Shakespeare

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The Merchant of Venice: Flashbacks 1 key example

Read our modern English translation.
Act 1, scene 3
Explanation and Analysis—Shylock's Past Abuse:

As Antonio attempts to negotiate a loan from Shylock, Shylock recalls past memories and asserts in a flashback,

Signior Antonio, many a time and oft

In the Rialto you have rated me

About my moneys and my usances.

Still have I borne it with a patient shrug 

For suff’rance is the badge of all our tribe.

You call me misbeliever, cutthroat dog,

And spet upon my Jewish gaberdine,

And all for use of that which is mine own.

Shylock remembers the prejudice and mistreatment that he and his fellow Jews have endured from Antonio and his Christian friends. In doing so, he lays the groundwork for his central mission in the play: to get revenge. He also grants the audience insight into the dynamics of Venetian society. Firstly, he points out the cruel contradiction that Christians simultaneously abuse him and borrow his money ("that which is mine own")—that is, they acknowledge his place in society with their actions while denigrating him with their words (and sometimes actions, too, e.g. spitting on him). Secondly, Shylock also reveals that Christians perpetuate the malice that pervades Venice. Shylock's flashback reveals, then, that he is neither solely nor naturally hateful—rather, Christians' own prejudices have inspired his present fury.