The Good and the Bad

For the sake of this post, I am going to focus mainly on the beginning of the first scene of act four, where the viewer sees Shylock preparing to take the pound of flesh from Antonio, despite the fact that Bassanio has double what Antonio owes him for Shylock. It seems that the principle is the thing here for Shylock, and it also makes it appear as if the man wanted to take a pound of flesh from Antonio all along. It makes Shylock out to be the villain, being that he refuses to shake the bond and grant any form of mercy to Antonio despite the fact that he had lost everything before. Graziano says of Shylock after watching him sharpen his blade on his shoe: “Not on thy sole but on thy soul, harsh Jew,/Thou mak’st thy knife keen. But no metal can…/half the keenness/Of thy sharp envy [malice]” 4.1.123-135. The contrast to Shylock’s soul and his malice is interesting, because isn’t the soul what is equated to religion? It is possible that here they are equating his wickedness to the fact that he is a Jew.
Shylock’s wickedness continues as the scene goes on and a disguised Portia enters the scene, pretending to be a judge in attempts to get Antonio free of this bond he is currently caught up in. She speaks to him, trying to convince him to cut the bond, but he does not give in to her reasoning, which is often quite clever indeed. Portia asks whether or not he has a surgeon to stop Antonio’s bleeding, and he says he does not which leads Portia to ask him if he do it for charity, Shylock answers: “I cannot find it. ‘Tis not in the bond.” 4.1.257. This shows Shylock as a person who cares only for the bond and the deals that he makes, rather than focusing on the actual person before him who has lost everything due to his ships sinking.
Meanwhile, Antonio manages to, though Shylock was about to kill him by taking a pound of his flesh, get the fine he would have suffered reduced and get half of it in a trust for Jessica and Lorenzo for after Shylock’s death. This paints out Antonio to be the hero. Shylock must basically get rid of all of his fortune—which the viewer  has seen to be very important to him—due to the fact that the bond has been broken after he was seeking to take Antonio’s life. Antonio, though he was nearly killed moments ago by Shylock before Portia’s reasoning saves him, is the kind and caring man who only wants to help reduce the fine, because that is what he must do, even if there is a bit of a second motive in it being that he helps get half of it secured for his friend who has married Jessica.
Though earlier in this play, Shylock seems to be the victim to Antonio, it appears as if Shakespeare has turned the tables on this sympathy that the viewer might have been gaining for Shylock. In the beginning, Shylock accuses Antonio of calling him a dog and spitting on him, to which Antonio does not deny and in fact states he would do again, and yet now he is reducing a fine on Shylock’s welfare even after Shylock attempted to take his life. Shakespeare seems to really want to kill any feelings the viewer may have garnered for Shylock in order to paint  Antonio as the hero here, and really get the point across that, as discussed in class on Friday, the Christians in this play are the generous ones, that would give up all for another man.

2 thoughts on “The Good and the Bad

  1. Cyrus Mulready

    As we discussed it in class on Tuesday, Shylock was receiving a good deal of our sympathy. But this post raises some good questions to that position, and I agree that there is some strong villainy in this scene. It raises the question of whether Shylock must be "good" in order to be sympathetic. Perhaps one of the points in the play is that true "charity" ought not only be expressed to those whom we love?

  2. Kelly Prendergast

    I think your comment, "This paints out Antonio to be the hero." is interesting. What did Antonio actually do that was so heroic? Portia was the one who swooped in to save the day, Antonio got himself in trouble with bad business ventures, and was to pay the price for this. I agree that Shakespeare paints Antonio as the hero, but is it deserved?


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