The Merchant of Venice

by: William Shakespeare

Revenge

1
If I can catch him once upon the hip,
I will feed fat the ancient grudge I bear him. (I.iii.46-47)

In an aside during the third scene of the play when Bassanio and Antonio approach Shylock for the loan, Shylock describes the reasons he hates Antonio, ending with this description of revenge. His use of “ancient” references a history of anti-Semitism in Europe much older than him and Antonio, and “feed fat” is an example of the base, animal language that characterizes Shylock as gruesome and monstrous. This aside sets up Shylock’s main motivation for the play, which is revenge on Antonio as a symbol for revenge on a society that has wronged him and his ancestors.

2
The villainy you teach me I will execute, and it shall go hard but I will better the instruction. (III.i.70-73)

In the final line of Shylock’s famous “hath not a Jew eyes?” speech, Shylock describes nature of revenge as a never-ending and intensifying cycle. He demonstrates that he understands that killing Antonio would be a larger crime than Antonio’s offenses against him, but prefers it that way. In this line Shylock simultaneously validates his desire for revenge, explaining that he’s only a villain because Antonio and his friends have taught him to be that way through their cruelty, and condemns it, explaining how he would take pleasure in a greater punishment for Antonio.

3
Thou shalt have more justice than thou desir’st (IV.i.330)

Just before Portia, disguised as Balthazar during the trial scene, delivers her verdict, she tells Shylock that he will have more justice than he wants. The phrase “more justice” stands in for punishment. This line sets us Portia’s verdict as Shylock’s punishment for trying to collect the terms of his loan, or revenge for trying to kill Antonio. Portia, like Shylock, acts out of a desire for revenge against those who threaten her tribe, showing that the attitude permeates the play.

4

‘ . . . How like a fawning publican he looks! I hate him for he is a Christian, But more for that in low simplicity He lends out money gratis and brings down The rate of usance here with us in Venice. If I can catch him once upon the hip, I will feed fat the ancient grudge I bear him. He hates our sacred nation, and he rails, Even there where merchants most do congregate, On me, my bargains and my well-won thrift, Which he calls “interest.” Cursèd be my tribe If I forgive him! (A I, s iii)

Shylock explains his enmity for Antonio. He has a bias against Antonio as a Christian and hates him even more for Antonio’s practice of lending money without interest, undermining Shylock’s usury business. Shylock wants revenge for years of Antonio's mistreatment. Antonio hates people of the Jewish faith and always speaks badly about Shylock’s merchant deals. Readers may note the irony of Shylock hating Antonio because of his Christianity, but seeking revenge because Antonio discriminates against his Judaism. Clearly, hatred and religious division spark the fire of revenge.

5

I am bid forth to supper, Jessica. There are my keys.—But wherefore should I go? I am not bid for love. They flatter me. But yet I’ll go in hate to feed upon The prodigal Christian. (A II, s v)

Shylock explains to his daughter Jessica his suspicions that Bassanio and Antonio only invited him to dinner because they want something from him. He chooses to attend in order to exploit Antonio’s liberal hospitality. Shylock reveals a twisted vengeful character in his choice of words to “feed upon” Antonio, foreshadowing the pound of flesh he’ll demand.

6

Never did I know A creature that did bear the shape of man So keen and greedy to confound a man. He plies the duke at morning and at night, And doth impeach the freedom of the state If they deny him justice. Twenty merchants, The duke himself, and the magnificoes Of greatest port have all persuaded with him. But none can drive him from the envious plea Of forfeiture, of justice, and his bond. (A III, s ii)

Solanio discusses with Bassanio Shylock’s aggressive intent to get revenge on Antonio. He explains that Shylock would rather take Antonio’s flesh than money to pay his debt because such an act would give him the revenge he has always wanted. Solanio also voices concern as he believes no one can stop Shylock or deter him from his need for revenge. While Shylock believes he has valid reasons for his hatred of Antonio, his hatred and revenge take over his character and blind him.