Merchant of Venice


In act 1 scene 3 Starting with this speech, how does Shakespeare present Shylock’s feelings about the way he is treated?

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"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 cooked 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. If a Jew wrong a Christian, what is his humility? Revenge. If a Christian wrong a Jew, what should his sufferance be by Christian example? Why, revenge. The villainy you teach me I will execute, and it shall go hard but I will better the instruction."

This passage has been interpreted in many ways, from comedic to villainous to tragic. In the twentieth century, it has almost always taken on a tragic character as a result of WWII. Shylock speaks the lines to defend his resolution to take a pound of Antonio's flesh. However, the passage is difficult to interpret because of Shylock's position in the society. As a Jew, he could not have been on the street screaming for revenge, since this would only lead to more persecution. Thus, one interpretation has taken the lines to be comic, in the sense of using comedy as a mask to hide fear. Like a child who makes jokes out of insecurity, Shylock tries to defend his right to exact the pound of flesh.

In my opinion, Shakespeare's intent was to invoke sympathy.... tragedy.... not comedy. I have never seen this scene enacted without feeling pity for the old man, and evenunderstanding what has hardened him.