Plot Summary / The Story-line
In Venice Solanio and Salarino are talking about the latest news on Rialto (financial and commercial centre of Venice). There is a rumour that Antonio’s ship has drowned at the south east coast of England. Solanio becomes depressed twice because of Antonio’s bad luck and Shylock’s arrival.
Shylock blames Solanio and Salarino for helping Jessica to elope with Lorenzo. They boast themselves for helping Jessica. Solanio even argues that it is natural for grown-up children to leave their parents. But Shylock says that she is his own flesh and blood. So, she cannot do this. Shylock curses her for her actions. Salarino comments that there is more difference between him (shylock) and Jessica. Shylock is like jet (a deep black stone) and Jessica is like ivory.
Then Salarino asks Shylock if he hears any news about Antonio’s loss at sea. Shylock seems ignorant of this rumour. He replies that Antonio is a spendthrift and a bankrupt. He used to insult him (Shylock) earlier but now he is indebted to him. That’s a shame. Antonio should look forth to the essence of his bond. In fact, Shylock repeats thrice the words –
Let him look to his bond…
Salarino cannot think that Shylock really wants a pound of Antonio’s flesh if he fails to pay back. But Shylock confirms that he wants revenge on Antonio for mocking and insulting him for being a Jew. Shylock tells that he will have his revenge the way the Christians have taught him. Shylock here gives a long speech on how the Jews are similar to the Christians and that they should not be treated badly.
Hath not a Jew eyes?
Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions?
… If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh?
Then one of Antonio’s servants arrives and declares that Antonio wants to talk with Solanio and Salarino. As they leave, Tubal, a Jew friend of Shylock, arrives. He has searched Jessica in Genoa and he heard rumours of her but he does not find her. Shylock jargons against his daughter and mourns his losses. He becomes mournful when he hears Jessica has sold a ring which was given to him by Leah, Jessica’s mother. The ring has traded for a monkey.
However, Shylock is amused the next moment when Tubal informs him he has heard news in Genoa that Antonio has lost his ship in the sea. Shylock announces that he will take one pound of flesh from Antonio’s heart if he is unable to pay his loan. He then instructs Tubal to inform a police sergeant in advance to arrest Antonio and he will meet him later at the Synagogue (a building for Jewish religious worship).
Commentary on Act III, Scene 1
In this scene time plays a peculiar role. Three months pass quickly in Venice, while only one day passes in Belmont and at this moment Antonio has been bankrupted.
By asking Shylock, Salarino and Solanio try to justify the truth behind the rumour of Antonio’s loss. But it gives force to Shylock’s determination to take revenge against Antonio.
We find Shylock quite eccentric in his behaviour and it adds to the humour of the play. Sometimes he bursts in anger for his own loss and the next moment he is delighted for Antonio’s ship being wreaked.
Shylock’s famous speech “hath not a Jew eyes?” completely silences the audience though. It is one of the greatest questions of human tolerance. Through Shylock’s speech Shakespeare wants to deliver the message that there are more similarities between us human beings than differences.
Shylock wants to take revenge not only against Antonio but also against the whole Christian community through their own court system. Though Shylock provided the loan to Antonio on a legal bond, the audience see Shylock’s action as a cruel act.
In very real sense, the audience’s sympathy goes with Shylock who has lost his daughter and wealth at the same time. But he is too obsessed with money to differentiate between wealth and humanity. His strong hatred against the Christians has spoiled his affection for his daughter.