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Act 4, Scene 1 Notes from Merchant of Venice

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Merchant of Venice Act 4, Scene 1

The scene begins in a Venice court of justice. The Duke, Antonio, Bassanio, Gratiano, Salerio, The Magnificoes, and others enter. The Duke begins the proceedings, and offers Antonio his sympathies - Shylock is out for blood. Antonio thanks the Duke for doing what he could to help. Shylock enters. The Duke suggests that Shylock might at this last moment, offer some kind of forgiveness to Antonio, considering his recent failures in business: "And then 'tis thought thou'lt show thy mercy and remorse more strange than is thy strange apparent cruelty." Act 4 Scene 1, lines 20-2

Shylock wholly refuses to consider clemency. He threatens the Duke, reminding him that if he were to interfere, it could jeopardize the rule of law in Venice. He then goes on a tirade, refusing to justify his actions against Antonio: "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' the nose cannot contain their urine." Act 4, Scene 1, lines 47-50

Shylock explains that the only important thing is that Antonio owes him, and that he doesn't like Antonio. The why is unimportant. Bassanio argues with Shylock, demanding a reason for his cruelty, then Antonio jumps in, declaring Bassanio's efforts futile, and accepting his fate:

"Bassanio: Every offense is not a hate at first.
Shylock: What, wouldst thou have a serpent sting thee twice?
Antonio: I pray you, think you question with the Jew.
You may as well go stand on the beach
and bid the main flood bate his usual height,
you may as well use question with the wolf
why he hath made the ewe bleat for the lamb,
you may as well forbid the mountain pines
to wag their high tops and to make no noise
when they are fretten with the gusts of heaven,
you may as well do anything most hard
as seek to soften that - than which what's harder? -
his Jewish heart. Therefore, I do beseech you
make no more offers, use no further means,
but with all brief and plain conveniency
let me have judgement and the Jew his will."
Act 4, Scene 1, lines 68-83

Bassanio offers Shylock six thousand ducats. Shylock says that the amount is meaningless. If he were offered thirty-six thousand ducats he wouldn't take it. Shylock reminds the court that they have no right to question his actions - they all have slaves, and they're allowed to do whatever they want with their property. Since the pound of Antonio's flesh is Shylock's property, and he can do whatever he wants with it. He demands a ruling from the duke. The duke responds that there won't be any ruling until he's heard from Doctor Bellario, who he's asked to help him decide the case. Bassanio offers to give his life in stead of Antonio's. Antonio refuses to let him, believing that his life has little value compared to Bassanio's.

Nerissa enters, disguised as a clerk, and presents a letter to the Duke from Doctor Bellario. Bassanio notices Shylock fondling a knife in earnest, and wonders why. Shylock is overly excited - he can't wait for his opportunity to cut the heart from out of Antonio. Gratiano implores some sympathy from Shylock, and then insults him when begging won't work. Shylock waves off the insults. The Duke hands the letter to the clerk, who reads it aloud. The letter says that Doctor Bellario is very ill, and that he's sent a roman doctor named Balthasar to handle the case. Portia enters, dressed as Balthasar.

Portia makes a speech acknowledging that Shylock's bond is valid, and that he has a right to cut a pound of flesh from Antonio. She then suggests that he offer mercy, and accept the money he's been offered. Shylock refuses the money and demands what is legally his. They prepare to perform the surgery on Antonio. Portia asks his Shylock has taken the necessary precautions. Shylock hasn't bothered:

"Shylock: Ay, 'his breast': So says the bond - doth it not, noble judge?-
'Nearest his heart.' Those are the very words.
Portia: It is so. Are there balance here to weigh the flesh?
Shylock: I have them ready.
Portia: Have by some surgeon, Shylock, on your charge,
to stop his wounds, lest he do bleed to death.
Shylock: Is it so nominated in the bond?
Portia: It is not so expressed; but what of that?
'twere good you do so much for charity.
Shylock: I cannot find it; 'tis not in the bond."
Act 4, Scene 1, lines 253-262

Antonio assures everyone that he's prepared himself, and is ready to pay his debt. He asks Bassanio to speak well of him, and to know that he always had a friend who loved him. Bassanio replies that Antonio is the most important thing in the world to him, and that he'd sacrifice everything, even his wife, if it would save him. This doesn't please Portia in the least. Gratiano then chimes in: "I have a wife who, I protest, I love. I would she were in heaven so she could entreat some power to change this currish Jew. Nerissa: 'Tis well that you offer it behind her back. The wish would make else an unquiet house.'" Act 4, Scene 1, lines 290-4

Topic Tracking: Love 8

Shylock is fed up with wasting time. He demands that the sentence be carried out immediately. Portia agrees. Shylock prepares to cut into Antonio's flesh. Portia pauses to educate Shylock on the finer points of the law - which says that if he were to spill even a drop of Christian blood, all of his lands and goods would be seized by the government of Venice, in fact, if he takes anything from Antonio but an exact pound of flesh, as it said in the contract - any more or any less, it wouldn't be the collection of a contract, I would be an attack on Antonio - for which the punishment is death, as well as forfeiting his property. Shylock knows that he's been beaten, and asks for his money back. Bassanio offers it, but Portia stops him. Shylock has already refused money in open court - he'll have the pound of flesh or nothing at all. Shylock gives up, and tries to leave. Portia then reminds him of yet another law: "If it be proven against an alien that by direct or indirect attempts he seek the life of any citizen, the party 'gainst the which he doth contrive shall seize one half his goods. The other half comes to the privy coffer of the state. And the offender's life lies in the mercy of the Duke only, 'gainst all other voice." Act 4, Scene 1, lines 349-356

Topic Tracking: Persecution 8
Topic Tracking: Fortune 8

Portia tells Shylock he'll have to beg the Duke for his life. The Duke volunteers the pardon without being asked - proving himself a very different man than Shylock. Shylock feels that he might as well be dead - without money, what kind of life could he have? Antonio suggests that the court give Shylock half of his money back on two conditions, first, that the money be willed to his Daughter and Son-in-law upon his death, and that he convert to Christianity. The Duke agrees, and tells Shylock that if he doesn't take the deal, his pardon will be rescinded. Shylock agrees to the deal and leaves. The Duke thanks Portia for her service, then exits with his entire train.

Topic Tracking: Persecution 9

Antonio and Bassanio profusely thank Portia, and offer to pay her, still unaware of her true identity. She tells them that no payment is necessary, she is satisfied with her victory, and stresses that her motives were selfish: "My mind was never yet more mercenary" Act 4, Scene 1, line 418. All she asks in payment are two mementos. Antonio's gloves, and Bassanio's ring. Bassano balks at the prospect, explaining that he promised his wife he'd never take the ring off - he offers her anything else, but she refuses. Portia tells him that him that his wife will surely understand, then leaves, feigning insult. Antonio convinces Bassanio to give Portia the ring, and Bassanio sends Gratiano chasing after her to deliver it.

Topic Tracking: Love 8

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