Shylock and Antonio's Bond

Act 1 Scene 3 – Key Scene

In this scene Bassanio and Antonio ask Shylock for a loan so that Bassanio will have enough money to go to Belmont and woo Portia. Shylock deliberates over whether he will agree to lend Antonio the money or not, given how badly Antonio has treated him in the past. Ultimately he agrees, however on the condition that Shylock will be entitled to cut off a pound of Antonio’s flesh if he fails to repay the three thousand ducats within three months.

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 the scene. Who has the most lines? Are they 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.
    Go with me to a notary, seal me there
    Your single bond, and in a merry sport
    If you repay me not on such a day,
    In such a place, such sum or sums as are
    Expressed in the condition, let the forfeit
    Be nominated for an equal pound
    Of your fair flesh, to be cut off and taken
    In what part of your body it pleaseth me.

    A notary is a clerk or secretary who draws up legal documents and contracts.

    Why do you think Shylock calls the deal a ‘merry sport’ at this stage? Do you think he does see it as a game or is this a deliberate tactic to hide his true intentions?

    Do you think this is a fair deal?

    Content, in faith, I’ll seal to such a bond

    And say there is much kindness in the Jew.

    4 Why do you think Antonio agrees to this deal so immediately and without questioning Shylock’s motives?

    You shall not seal to such a bond for me.
    I’ll rather dwell in my necessity.

    Don’t agree to this on my account. I would rather remain poor than for you to put yourself in danger on my behalf.

    Why, fear not, man, I will not forfeit it.
    Within these two months — that’s a month before
    This bond expires — I do expect return
    Of thrice three times the value of this bond.

    Don’t worry about it! I won’t have to give him my flesh as a month before the time expires I should have received goods worth three times the amount I owe Shylock.

    O father Abram, what these Christians are,
    Whose own hard dealings teaches them suspect
    The thoughts of others! Pray you tell me this:
    If he should break his day, what should I gain
    By the exaction of the forfeiture?
    A pound of man’s flesh taken from a man
    Is not so estimable, profitable neither,
    As flesh of muttons, beefs or goats.
    I say
    To buy his favour, I extend this friendship:
    If he will take it, so, if not, adieu.
    And for my love, I pray you wrong me not.

    A pound of a man’s flesh is of far less value than that of edible animals.

    Yes Shylock, I will seal unto this bond.
    Then meet me forthwith at the notary’s,
    Give him direction for this merry bond,
    And I will go and purse the ducats straight,
    See to my house, left in the fearful guard
    Of an unthrifty knave, and presently
    I’ll be with you.

    A ducat was a coin used across Europe when Shakespeare wrote the play.

    A knave is a male servant.

    I like not fair terms and a villain’s mind.
    Come on, in this there can be no dismay.
    My ships come home a month before the day.
  • Listen
    Read the scene aloud. Are there any words or lines that really stand out? How are the characters compared and contrasted here?
  • Watch
    Take a look at the actors performing this scene. How do the characters come across in this version?
  • 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?