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Intro

Bated breath

I'm Shylock. I'm a Jewish moneylender. I'm despised by everyone in Venice and betrayed by my daughter, so it might not surprise you that I'm a downright angry man. And you know what I think?

Signior Antonio, many a time and oft
In the Rialto you have rated me
About my moneys and my usances:
Still have I borne it with a patient shrug,
For sufferance is the badge of all our tribe.
You call me misbeliever, cut-throat dog,
And spit upon my Jewish gaberdine,
And all for use of that which is mine own.
Well then, it now appears you need my help:
Go to, then; you come to me, and you say
'Shylock, we would have moneys:' you say so;
You, that did void your rheum upon my beard
And foot me as you spurn a stranger cur
Over your threshold: moneys is your suit
What should I say to you? Should I not say
'Hath a dog money? is it possible
A cur can lend three thousand ducats?' Or
Shall I bend low and in a bondman's key,
With bated breath and whispering humbleness, Say this;
'Fair sir, you spit on me on Wednesday last;
You spurn'd me such a day; another time
You call'd me dog; and for these courtesies
I'll lend you thus much moneys'? (1.3.103-126)

Who Said It and Where

On the mean streets of Venice, Bassanio wheels and deals with Shylock. Bassanio needs some cash so he can woo his honey Portia in style. We're talking a team of servants, a new set of fancy threads, and plenty of bling to impress the rich heiress. The problem is, Bassanio's broke.

So he asks Shylock if he can borrow 3,000 ducats, or gold coins, with the stipulation that he'll pay them back in three months. He'll use his buddy Antonio's credit to get the loan. Shylock thinks that Antonio is likely good for the money, but still, all the man's cash is tied up in potential ventures. None of it actually exists yet. Shmoop smells shenanigans.

Shylock gives us a brief look into Antonio's diverse financial portfolio: he's got a ship bound to Tripoli and another to the Indies. In the marketplace, Shylock has heard of even more ships backed by Antonio—a third for Mexico, a fourth for England, and several others.

Though all this sailing about seems rather risky, Shylock says he'll lend the money, but he would like to speak to Antonio first. Willing to comply, Bassanio invites Antonio to dinner so the three men can chat. But Shylock also says he's not hot about the idea of hanging out with Christians. Ouch. He says he'll trade with Christians, talk and walk with Christians, but he has to draw a line somewhere, and he's drawn it at eating, drinking, and praying with them.

So Antonio then enters the scene. Shylock admits to us in the audience that he hates Antonio "for he is a Christian." More than anything else, however, Shylock says he hates Antonio for what he does in the marketplace. Antonio lends out money free of interest, which is unfair competition for the lenders who aren't willing to do so… like Shylock.

Shylock says he'd like to catch Antonio at a disadvantage so he can get even with him, not only for undercutting him in trade, but also for the nasty things Antonio has said about Shylock around town. We're getting the idea that there's more than a few hundred gold pieces at stake here. Shylock talks money with Antonio and Bassanio. He says he can lend the 3,000 ducats. Sure, he doesn't have that sum on hand, but he can borrow some from his fellow Jewish friend Tubal.

Shylock doesn't drop Antonio's seeming hypocrisy so easily. He points out that Antonio is always saying he doesn't believe in charging or paying interest. But this is on the condition that Antonio signs a bond promising that if the debt goes unpaid, Antonio will give Shylock a pound of his own flesh. Literally. This seems like a good idea at the time, since Antonio is sure he'll have earned the money from his ships before Shylock's due date. But this is a Shakespeare play, so nothing can possibly go right, right?

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