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Merchant of Venice Commentary - Act III.

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Act III. Scene I. - Venice. A Street.

Shylock: "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?"

Shylock makes it clear that he no longer wants repayment of Bassanio's debt of three thousand ducats. He would prefer his pound of flesh from Antonio instead since he now sees Antonio as the source of all his miseries and reaffirms his desire to make Antonio pay for this...

Back in Venice, we learn that Shylock will no longer accept money; Shylock resents Antonio's persistent mocking of him because as he says, "I am a Jew." He earlier mentions that Antonio has "disgraced me, and hindered me half a million, laughed at my losses, mocked at my gains, scorned my nation, thwarted my bargains, cooled my friends," (Lines 58-61) and "heated mine enemies;" (Lines 61-62).

Famously, Shylock points out that in being human like Antonio, who feels, thinks and acts the same way, he deserves better:

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 water 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? (Lines 63-72)

Shylock ominously adds that in seeking revenge, he will simply be following what in his own eyes, he sees as Christian custom, "If a Christian wrong a Jew, what should his sufferance be by Christian example? Why, revenge. The villany you teach me I will execute, and it shall go hard but I will better the instruction" (Lines 73-78).

From Shylock's friend Tubul, the loss of Antonio's ship is confirmed. Shylock is delighted, "I am very glad of it: I'll plague him; I'll torture him: I am glad of it" (Lines 124-125).

Act III. Scene II. - Belmont. A Room in Portia's House.

Bassanio arrives to court Portia who is reluctant to never see Bassanio again if he fails the casket challenge. Bassanio takes the challenge, choosing correctly. Bassanio will therefore marry Portia and it is revealed Gratiano has fallen in love with Nerissa, Portia's maid and so another marriage will also occur. We learn from Salanio that Antonio has forfeited his debt to Shylock and now stands to lose a pound of his flesh and with it his life for helping his friend Bassanio. Portia enthusiastically offers to pay Shylock Bassanio's death twelvefold to avert this...

Back in Belmont, Bassanio arrives to pursue Lady Portia. Portia is delighted and scared; she fears she will never see Bassanio again if he chooses the wrong casket (the gold or silver caskets) and pleads with him to delay his attempt. Bassanio however cannot wait.

Shunning the materialistic, Bassanio ignores the gold and silver caskets instead choosing the one made of lead which bears the inscription, "Who chooseth [chooses] me must give and hazard [risk] all he hath [has]:" (Act II, Scene IX, Line 21).

Bassanio finds in it Portia's portrait and realizes he has won the fair Portia. Overjoyed, Bassanio and Portia learn that Bassanio's friend Gratiano has also fallen in love with Portia's maid, Nerissa.

Marriage plans are made at once but then we learn by letter from Salanio that Antonio has forfeited the debt and Shylock will kill him when he extracts his pound of flesh.

It appears Antonio has lost all his ships at sea and so avoiding forfeiting the debt is now impossible. Portia learning this and no doubt aware that Antonio's actions allowed Bassanio to court her, beseeches Bassanio to save his friend with money she provides, telling Bassanio: "Pay him [Shylock] six thousand, and deface the bond; / Double six thousand, and then treble that, / Before a friend of this description / Shall lose a hair through Bassanio's fault" (Lines 300-303).

Act III. Scene III. - Venice. A Street.

Antonio pleads to let him pay back Bassanio's debt but Shylock wants Antonio's pound of flesh and therefore his death instead...

Out on the streets but accompanied now by a "gaoler," or a jailer, Antonio tries to plead with Shylock not to demand the bond. Shylock will not listen, saying: "I'll have my bond; speak not against my bond:" (Lines 3-4).

Antonio realizes Shylock will not be reasoned with, commenting that " I'll follow him no more with bootless [useless] prayers. He seeks my life; his reason well I know" (Lines 20-21).

Act III. Scene IV. - Belmont. A Room in Portia's House.

Portia and Nerissa leave Belmont on a secret mission to save Antonio...

Within a room of Portia's home at Belmont, Portia instructs Jessica and Lorenzo to mind her house; she and Nerissa intend on praying at the monastery which is "two miles off," (Line 31).

Portia tells Jessica and Lorenzo not to tell anyone. With Jessica and Lorenzo gone, she instructs Balthazar, her messenger to deliver a letter "In speed" (Line 49) to Padua, to be placed into the hands of her cousin, a Doctor Bellario and to deliver the "notes and garments he [Doctor Bellario] doth give thee, [to Balthazar]" and deliver them "with imagin'd speed / Unto the traject, to the common ferry / Which trades to Venice" (Line 53).

She implores Balthazar to waste no time, "Waste no time in words, / But get thee gone: I shall be there before thee [you]" (Line 54). Portia tells her maid Nerissa to join her for as Portia says "I have work in hand / That you yet know not of: we'll see our husbands / Before they think of us" (I have work to do that you Nerissa do not yet know about. We'll see our husbands before they even begin to think of us), (Line 57).

Portia tells Nerissa that their husbands will indeed see them "but in such a habit / That they shall think we are accomplished / With that we lack", (Lines 61-62) a reference to the two girls looking so much like men that their own husbands will think they are men.

Act III. Scene V. - The Same. A Garden.

Within a garden at Portia's house, Launcelot believes Jessica to be damned telling her to "hope that your father got you not, that you are not the Jew's daughter" (Lines 11-12).

Jessica replies that "I shall be saved by my husband; he hath [has] made me a Christian" (Lines 20-21). Lorenzo arrives, engaging Launcelot in witty banter.

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