What if my house be troubled with a rat,
And I be pleased to give ten thousand ducats
To have it baned? What, are you answered yet?
Some men there are love not a gaping pig,
Some that are mad if they behold a cat,
And others when the bagpipe sings i’th’ nose
Cannot contain their urine; for affection,
Mistress of passion, sways it to the mood
Of what it likes or loathes. . . .
. . .
So can I give no reason, nor I will not,
More than a lodged hate and a certain loathing
I bear Antonio, that I follow thus
A losing suit against him. Are you answered?

When, in Act IV, scene i, Antonio and Shylock are summoned before the court, the duke asks the Jew to show his adversary some mercy. Shylock responds by reasoning that he has no reason. He blames his hatred of Antonio on “affection, / [that] Mistress of passion,” who is known to affect men’s moods in ways they cannot explain (IV.i.4950). Just as certain people do not know why they have an aversion to cats or certain strains of music or eating meat, Shylock cannot logically explain his dislike for Antonio. The whole of his response to the court boils down to the terribly eloquent equivalent of the simple answer: just because. The speech merits consideration not only because it articulates a range of emotions that often cannot be verbally expressed, but also because Shylock’s language patterns reinforce our impression of his character. The use of repetition in the passage is frequent. Shylock returns not only to the same imagery—the “gaping pig” (IV.i.53) and the “woolen bagpipe” (IV.i.55)—but he also bookends his speech with the simple question, “Are you answered?” (IV.i.61). Here, Shylock’s tightly controlled speech reflects the narrow and determined focus of his quest to satisfy his hatred.

The speech’s imagery is of the prosaic sort typical of Shylock. Other characters speak in dreamily poetic tones, evoking images of angels and waters scented with spice, but Shylock draws on the most mundane examples to prove his point. To him, Antonio is a rat, and his dislike of Antonio no more odd than that which some men have toward pigs or cats. Shylock uses bodily functions to drive home his point, likening rage to urination in a crass turn of phrase that is unique to his character. Also, Shylock’s rage takes on an apparent arbitrariness. Originally, Shylock’s gripe with Antonio seems based on a carefully meditated catalogue of the Venetian’s crimes. Here, however, it appears little more than a whim, a swing of the pendulum that “sways” to affection’s moods (IV.i.50). By relying on the defense that his actions are justified simply because he feels like them, Shylock appears unpredictable and whimsical, and he further fuels our perception of his actions as careless and cruel.