If you prick us do we not bleed?

Act 3 Scene 1 – Key Scene

Before this speech Salerio asks Shylock why he wants a pound of Antonio’s flesh as he doesn’t understand what it’s ‘good for’. Shylock then explains that it will ‘feed’ his ‘revenge’. He wants revenge on Antonio for treating him so inhumanely in the past.

Take a look at an extract from this scene. Using the following steps, remember to look at it line by line and if you’re looking at the scene for the first time don’t worry if you don’t understand everything at once.

  • Look
    Take a look at this speech. Is Shylock using prose or verse? Actors at the RSC often put the language into their own words to help them understand what they are saying. We’ve added some definitions (in green), questions (in red) and paraphrased some sections (in blue) to help with this. You can click on the text that is highlighted for extra guidance.
    Why, I am sure if he forfeit, thou wilt not take his flesh. What’s that good for?

    I’m sure that if Antonio can’t pay you back, you won’t take his flesh. What use does it have?

    To bait fish withal. If it will feed nothing else, it will feed my revenge. He hath disgraced me, and hindered me half a million, laughed at my losses, mocked at my gains, scorned my nation, thwarted my bargains, cooled my friends, heated mine enemies, and what’s the reason? I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? Fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that. If a Jew wrong a Christian, what is his humility? Revenge. If a Christian wrong a Jew, what should his sufferance be by Christian example?Why, revenge. The villainy you teach me I will execute, and it shall go hard but I will better the instruction.

    To lure or entice.

    He has prevented me from making half a million.

    To make fun of and insult.

    My nation refers to Shylock’s fellow Jews.

    Dimensions are bodily parts which can be measured.

    Look at all of the physical imagery here to do with bodies. Why do you think Shylock uses this? How effective is it?

    If we are like you physically, then we will also behave in similar ways to you too, which means that we will also seek revenge when we feel wronged.

    Notice how many rhetorical questions Shylock asks. Why do you think he uses them? What do you think the impact of this is?

    This is one of the most famous speeches in the play and often quoted as an example of how all human beings, regardless of religion or race, are essentially the same. Why do you think it has become so popular?

    The bad behaviour that you teach me, I will carry out, and although it will be hard on you, I will teach you a lesson even harder than the one you taught me.

  • Listen
    Read the scene aloud. Are there any words or lines that really stand out in this speech or any sounds or images that are repeated? Where does Shylock use questions and why does he do this?
  • Watch
    Take a look at the actors performing this scene. How does Shylock come across in this version? What is driving him and how does this compare to your first impression?
  • Imagine
    Explore some images from past versions of The Merchant of Venice at the RSC. Which sets and staging choices for the scene feel right to you?