The Merchant of Venice

by: William Shakespeare

Act III, scenes i–ii

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.100103). 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.

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