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. 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.
There are perhaps fewer disturbing lines
in all of Shakespeare than Shylock’s promise to Solanio and Salarino
in Act III, scene i, that he will outdo the evil that has been done
to him. Shylock begins by eloquently reminding the Venetians that
all people, even those who are not part of the majority culture,
are human. A Jew, he reasons, is equipped with the same faculties
as a Christian, and is therefore subject to feeling the same pains
and comforts and emotions. The speech, however, is not a celebration
of shared experience or even an invitation for the Venetians to
acknowledge their enemy’s humanity. Instead of using reason to elevate
himself above his Venetian tormenters, Shylock delivers a monologue
that allows him to sink to their level: he will, he vows, behave
as villainously as they have. The speech is remarkable in that it
summons a range of emotional responses to Shylock. At first, we
doubtlessly sympathize with the Jew, whose right to fair and decent
treatment has been so neglected by the Venetians that he must remind
them that he has “hands, organs, dimensions, senses” similar to
theirs (III.i.50). But Shylock’s pledge to
behave as badly as they, and, moreover, to “better the instruction,”
casts him in a less sympathetic light (III.i.61).
While we understand his motivation, we cannot excuse the endless
perpetuation of such villainy.