Literary Devices in The Merchant of Venice

Like many other humanist plays from the early modern English Renaissance, The Merchant of Venice features a lot of allusions to ancient Greek and Roman literature. Humanism was a literary and cultural movement during the Renaissance that rejected medieval scholasticism in favor of ancient writings. Many of the metaphors, symbols, and imagery of this play draw on these myths. The characters’ speech is dominated by monetary metaphors. They convey their relationships, feelings, and troubles by comparing them to monetary transactions. These language choices reveal the importance of money to the characters.

Literary Devices Examples in The Merchant of Venice:

Act I - Scene I 5

"her..."   (Act I - Scene I)

Notice that all of the descriptions of Portia do not reveal anything about the woman in particular. Bassanio vaguely gestures at her physical appearance, but he spends more time comparing her to figures from mythology than describing her personality or "wondrous virtues." This suggests that Bassanio doesn't really know anything about Portia and is mostly interested in her wealth.

"circumstance..."   (Act I - Scene I)

By this Antonio means that Bassanio is wasting time with metaphors because he assumes that there is a limit to Antonio's love for him. This suggests that there is no limit to Antonio's love, a proposition that will be tested throughout this play.

"unburthen..."   (Act I - Scene I)

"Unburthen" means to unburden or reveal. Shakespeare uses this literary device to both tell the audience what Bassanio's plan is and show the intimate relationship between Antonio and Bassanio.

"gear..."   (Act I - Scene I)

"Gear" in this context means chatter. Antonio promises to become a talker after hearing Gratiano's diatribe about silent men posing as wise men. However, Antonio's scathing line after Gratiano exits the stage suggests that this line is said sarcastically.

"wind..."   (Act I - Scene I)

This means that he would be tossing grass pieces into the air to see which direction the wind is blowing. This also metaphorically references fortune or luck. "Wind" can represent some one's fortune, good or bad, depending on which way it blows.

"called..."   (Act I - Scene II)

Portia's repetition in this line shows her recognition of the name and interest in Bassanio. She does not only remember him but emphatically remembers him.

"refuse to perform your father's will..."   (Act I - Scene II)

Nerissa brings the humorous diatribe against Portia's suitors to an end by reminding Portia of her filial obligation to marry whoever passes her father's test. In this way, Shakespeare reminds the audience of Portia's problem and returns to the main action of the play.

"surety..."   (Act I - Scene II)

Because France and England were rivals, France would often financially support Scotland in its efforts against England. This is another way in which Shakespeare uses the description of the suitors to make fun of France and Scotland, two of England's political rivals.

"dumb show..."   (Act I - Scene II)

A "dumb show" is a series of gestures and facial expressions used to communicate without speaking. It was a pantomime technique generally used for comedic effect in Early Modern theaters. Because Portia and the English suitor cannot communicate, Shakespeare is able to avoid making fun of England with the same stereotypes that have characterized suitors from other nations.

"him..."   (Act I - Scene II)

Notice that in Portia's denunciation of her suitors, Shakespeare is able to poke fun at other nations using their stereotypes. Since national identification was extremely important during Shakespeare's time, these descriptions would have been extremely funny to Shakespeare's audience. Consequently, Portia would appear more likable for her ability to make the audience laugh.

"smith..."   (Act I - Scene II)

Portia infers that the Prince's mother cheated on his father with a blacksmith since this is the only explanation for the Prince's obsession with horses and shoeing horses. Portia's crude humor and wit here would make her funny and appealing to both the low and high members of Shakespeare's audience. This introduction to Portia suggests that the audience should like her.

"colt..."   (Act I - Scene II)

A colt is a young horse. This is a description that doubles as an insult since a colt would be a silly and inexperienced young person. This adjective also refers to the Prince's obsession with his horse.

"you..."   (Act I - Scene II)

Notice that Shakespeare tells the audience about the test Portia's father created using Nerissa's lines. Portia would not need this information to be repeated. The test asks suitors to pick one cask out of three: iron, silver, and gold. The suitor who picks the right cask will be deserving of Portia's hand in marriage.

" what should I gain..."   (Act I - Scene III)

Here Shylock prays to Abraham to excuse himself for making a bond to take another man's flesh. He justifies his bond in saying that a pound of man's flesh has no monetary value and that he will not profit from it. This suggests that Shylock has higher aims than money in making this bond: perhaps punishing Antonio for his abuse of the Jews, or perhaps demonstrating the Christians's love of money above all else.

"fair flesh..."   (Act I - Scene III)

Shylock equalizes the body with money here when he asks Antonio to promise to give a pound of his flesh for each pound he does not pay back. While this has been read as a sign of Shylock's savagery, some critics see this as Shylock pointing out the hypocrisy of the Christians: any Christian who believed his body was a sacred gift from God would not make this bond. However, because money is more important to Antonio than God, he does agree to take this bond.

"in our mouths...."   (Act I - Scene III)

By this Shylock means that he and other Jewish lenders were just talking about Antonio, presumably because Antonio's interest free loans have spoiled their business. Notice again that Shylock is associated with consumption and eating.

"But more..."   (Act I - Scene III)

While many other plays at this time, including Shakespeare's source text The Jew of Malta by Christopher Marlowe, gave audiences a one dimensional Jewish villain, Shakespeare gives Shylock more of a motive to hate Antonio. Antonio offers loans without interest and debases the entire money lending market through which Shylock makes his living.

"blood is reddest..."   (Act II - Scene I)

Red blood was a symbol of manly courage and virility. Morocco seems to be making a case for himself as a worthy suitor, even though Portia has no say in who gets to marry her.

"complexion..."   (Act II - Scene I)

Morocco is a Moor, a resident of northern Africa generally with light brown skin. Morocco begins his courtship excusing his skin color, which suggests that Portia has not received this suitor well and he believes it is because of his race.

"boldest suit of mirth,..."   (Act II - Scene II)

A "boldest suit of mirth" are elaborate or ornamented party clothes. Unlike the "sober habit" that Gratiano proposes he wear, Bassanio ask him to dress extravagantly, to show off their wealth. Notice how religion and imagery of money are mixed within this scene.

"proverb..."   (Act II - Scene II)

The proverb to which Launcelot refers says, "the grace of God is possession enough." Launcelot references the Bible, but he uses it to flatter his lord instead of using it to worship God. Notice the implicit parallel drawn between Shylock and the Christians: Shylock seems to be a true man of his faith, while the Christians use faith for their own ends.

"—..."   (Act II - Scene II)

Notice that both Gobbo and Launcelot do not give each other room to speak. Gobbo is long winded and attempts to fill his speech with flowery language and metaphors. Launcelot cuts him off to get to the point. In other words, Launcelot believes he can do it better than his father. This picks up the themes present in Portia's storyline in a comedic and low space: like Launcelot, Portia is subject to her father's intervention in her affairs. Like Launcelot, Portia believes that she could do better than her father.

"cannot..."   (Act II - Scene II)

This line can be interpreted either as a sign that Gobbo is senile, or that Gobbo cannot believe that someone who acts like Launcelot could be his son.

"I look like ..."   (Act II - Scene II)

Launcelot takes his father's comment literally and becomes angry at being called a staff. Notice that Launcelot faults his father for not being able to "look" at him, though Launcelot himself has already acknowledged that his father is blind.

"him..."   (Act II - Scene II)

Launcelot's father Gobbo is blind and does not immediately recognize his son. Launcelot decides to play a prank on him. While Shakespeare's audience might have found this scene funny, we can also read Launcelot as a despicable character for his lack of honor. This undermines his characterization of Shylock as a "devil" and lends sympathy to the persecuted Jewish characters.

" is a kind of(20) devil..."   (Act II - Scene II)

Notice that serious negative descriptions of Shylock are put into the mouths of unreliable characters, such as Launcelot the low comedic clown.

"incarnation..."   (Act II - Scene II)

This is a malapropism, mistaking a word for another word that sounds like it. Launcelot mistakes the phrase "the devil incarnate," literally the devil embodied in the flesh, for "the devil incarnation," which at this time referred to the birth of Jesus. The malapropism throughout Launcelot's speech demonstrates his lack of eduction and position as a comedic low character.

"elbow..."   (Act II - Scene II)

Here, Launcelot performs a parody of a psychomachia, a conflict of the soul generally shown by a devil and an angel sitting on opposite shoulders and fighting it out for the subject's soul. Launcelot cannot decide whether or not to stay with his master. But unlike most psychomachia monologues, this one does not reach below surface level; Launcelot does not offer any real reasons to run or to stay.

"devil..."   (Act II - Scene III)

Notice how Jessica picks up the same metaphor that Launcelot used to describe Shylock in the previous scene. Except here, while the house is "Hell" Launcelot is the devil, rather than Shylock, and devil is repurposed to mean entertainer.

" in faith...."   (Act II - Scene IV)

Notice that we do not get to hear what Jessica has written to her lover. We must take "on faith," or on appearance that the letter contained love notes. This suggests that love in this play is shallow: it is not fully developed because it is more of a pose than a feeling.

"whiter than the paper..."   (Act II - Scene IV)

Notice that Lorenzo's love for Jessica is introduced with a description of her skin. Again, outward appearances are shown to be more important than one's inner make up in this play.

"drones hive not ..."   (Act II - Scene V)

Drones are male bees within a hive that do no work for the hive. Shylock refers to Launcelot with this series of metaphors to show that Launcelot was lazy and easily replaceable. What Shylock does not seem to realize is that he is losing Jessica as he is losing Launcelot.

"gormandise,..."   (Act II - Scene V)

Notice that Shylock makes the exact opposite claim to Launcelot's complaint. Remember that Launcelot told his father that Shylock starved him so much that he could count his ribs. Here, Shylock suggests that he allowed Launcelot to overeat while under his care.

"if..."   (Act II - Scene VI)

Notice that all of Lorenzo's compliments or reasons why he loves Jessica are mediated by this "if." This suggests that Lorenzo is not sure, but instead doubts his judgement and his eyes. His final compliment, that she has "proved herself true," is contradicted by the very action of running away with him: she has proved herself untrue to Shylock. This list of things he loves about her are undermined by the language that he uses to describe his love.

"ducats..."   (Act II - Scene VI)

Notice how many times money and appearance come up in this scene. Unlike the balcony scene in Romeo and Juliet in which the characters spend their time expressing ardent love for one another, these two lovers seem to be focused on anything but the other person. Jessica's constant mentioning of money could suggest that she fears Lorenzo is only interested in the money she brings to the marriage.

"casket..."   (Act II - Scene VI)

Notice that unlike Portia's caskets, from which suitors must choose lead instead of gold or silver, Jessica chooses a casket full of gold and silver to throw to Lorenzo. In Jessica's case, the money is what makes Lorenzo's labors "worth the pains." In Portia's case, Portia is the prize that men get for their pains.

"unforfeited..."   (Act II - Scene VI)

By this, Salerio means that new lovers move faster than married lovers since new lovers have not yet sealed their bond. Notice the language of monetary transaction used to describe love here.

"Venus..."   (Act II - Scene VI)

Venus is the Roman goddess of love. In mythology she drives a chariot pulled by doves. Calling the birds that pull her chariot "pigeons" makes a joke out of the mythological story.

"inscroll'd..."   (Act II - Scene VII)

The scroll suggests that choosing the golden casket reveals that the suitor is fooled by something's outward appearance and therefore is too bold and unwise. What is interesting about this test, is that Morocco did not choose this casket because of it's appearance as the scroll suggests, but because of what was written on the casket; he reasoned through his decision. While the test appears to show someone's inner character, it seems that its intention and execution are askew.

"All that glisters is not gold,..."   (Act II - Scene VII)

There is literary evidence for this proverb that pre-date Shakespeare's play. However, The Merchant of Venice made this saying universally recognized. "All that glitters is not gold" accurately sums up the theme of the play: external appearances often belie the internal state of something.

"his eye being big with tears..."   (Act II - Scene VIII)

Many scholars and performers have interpreted Antonio's dedication to Bassanio and sadness at his departure as coming from his homoerotic love for Bassanio. They use this love to explain the extreme lengths to which Antonio will go for Bassanio and the first line of play ("In sooth I know not why I am so sad"). If Antonio is in love with Bassanio, then this love is both the source of his selfless devotion and his sadness.

"he only loves the world for him..."   (Act II - Scene VIII)

Solanio and Salerio's narration of this scene seems to miss the homoerotic undertones of Antonio's love for Bassanio. They view this parting as a sign of loving friendship rather than a sign of Antonio's devotion to Bassanio. Their inability to see past the shallow interpretation of this interaction demonstrates that they don't know what they are seeing, and thus provide an interpretation of events that the audience should not readily accept.

" keep his day..."   (Act II - Scene VIII)

By this Solanio means Antonio must be able to pay off his debt to Shylock by its due date or Shylock will exact his revenge by brutally collecting his debt. This worry foreshadows the end of the play and offers a reason for Shylock's behavior later in the play.

"sensible regreets..."   (Act II - Scene IX)

By this, the messenger means the suitor brings physical gifts. Notice that Bassanio knows that he must woo Portia with material items. Unlike Morocco who tried to convince Portia of his worth with words, or Arragon who believed that he was inherently worthy of Portia, Bassanio buys Portia's affections.

"moth..."   (Act II - Scene IX)

This metaphor suggests that the seeker was burned by the very thing that they sought, as in a moth who is burned by the flame. In this way, Portia mocks the suitors for not only their bad choices but their decision to pursue her in the first place.

"You shall look fairer..."   (Act II - Scene IX)

By this line, Arragon means that "you" would have to look better for me to hazard, or risk, all that I have. Depending on who the actor directs this line to, itcan either be sincere or a comically offensive. If he says it to the casket, he simply acknowledges that iron is not pretty enough to risk seeing what is inside. If he addresses the "you" to Portia, then he says that Portia would have to be more attractive for him to risk opening an iron casket.

"worthless..."   (Act II - Scene IX)

"Worthless" in this context means "unworthy." In referring to herself as "worthless," Portia invokes a monetary term: unlike unworthy, worthless is related to something having no market value. In this way, Portia paints herself as a thing that can be bought an sold, but should not be purchased because she has no value.

"merchandise I will..."   (Act III - Scene I)

By this Shylock means that if Antonio were not in Venice he would have no competition in his money lending business and could therefore make whatever deals he pleased. Notice that now that Shylock has lost everything, Biblical references drop out of his speech. He is now focused on revenge instead of guided by his faith.

"I had it of Leah..."   (Act III - Scene I)

The ring that Jessica pawned in order to buy a monkey was a gift to Shylock from his dead wife Leah. Here he says that the ring was priceless because of its connection with his beloved. This line directly contradicts the vision of Shylock as a money hoarder; it also makes Jessica an unsympathetic character as she clearly does not care about the importance of the ring

"instruction..."   (Act III - Scene I)

Notice that this entire speech is a series of questions. Shylock does not want to simply tell the Christians who he is, he wants them to think through these questions and notice the flaws in their own logic. Shylock wants to use his revenge as a form of instruction.

"old carrion!..."   (Act III - Scene I)

Solanio takes Shylock's comment literally in order to insult him. He calls him an "old carrion," or corpse, and suggests that his skin and blood rebel against him so much that he looks like a corpse.

"Ha..."   (Act III - Scene I)

This exchange is a parody of grief. These two characters affect sadness for their friend in order to indulge in the gossip of his misfortune.

"title..."   (Act III - Scene I)

Solanio wishes that he had the appropriate language to talk about Antonio's good character. This exclamation verges on dramatic, hyperbolic speech. Dramatic speech is less about the subject of the outburst and more about the person speaking.

"wrack'd on the narrow seas..."   (Act III - Scene I)

Salerio reports the very tragedy that everyone in the play has been anticipating: Antonio's ship has wrecked along with his fortune. However, notice that the tone of Salerio's speech here is no different than anything else he has related. He does not seem to understand the gravity of what has happened.

"deface the bond;..."   (Act III - Scene II)

Deface the bond takes on multiple meanings here. Portia both wants to break the bond between Shylock and Antonio, but also she needs to get rid of Bassanio's indebtedness to Antonio. While Bassanio is "engaged" to Antonio, he cannot be fully bound to Portia. Thus it is important that she "deface," mar the appearance of or blot out from existence and memory, the bond.

"engag'd..."   (Act III - Scene II)

Notice the language of bonds mimics the language of marriage and love. Bassanio is "engaged" to Antonio by his this bond. Thus, he cannot be truly engaged to Portia.

"won the fleece...."   (Act III - Scene II)

This is a reference to the story of Jason and the golden fleece that Bassanio mentioned at the beginning of the play.

"ducats..."   (Act III - Scene II)

Here Gratiano bets Portia and Bassanio that he and Nerissa will have a boy before they do. Again, notice that all of the elements of human emotion are reduced to monetary exchange.

" provided that your fortune..."   (Act III - Scene II)

Notice that all of the love in this play revolves around chance. Unlike most of other Shakespeare's love stories, which rely on confessions of love and schemes to bring about the outcome one desires, in this play the pairings rely on contracts and gambling.

"ring..."   (Act III - Scene II)

Portia transforms her love and her wealth into a symbol, this ring. In making a symbol for her love, Portia moves her love from a an intangible emotion to an object.

"converted..."   (Act III - Scene II)

Converted in this context touches on two of the play's main themes by connoting both a monetary conversion and a religious conversion. All of her things and person are now Bassanio's things. The way in which Portia describes her conversion as a change in perception rather than a change in state: nothing has changed but the title assigned to them.

"gross..."   (Act III - Scene II)

Notice all of the monetary terms she uses to describe herself: gross, sum, account, rich etc. Like Bassanio, Portia focuses on her external and material attributes more than her internal character makeup. Portia, too, sees this as a relatively shallow, transaction.

"confirm'd, sign'd,..."   (Act III - Scene II)

Bassanio's language quickly turns from love to a contractual agreement. The bond between Portia and Bassanio reflects the bond between Shylock and Antonio and suggests that the action of this play revolves around monetary and legal contracts instead of love, friendship, or human emotion.

"common drudge..."   (Act III - Scene II)

By this one line, Bassanio refers to the silver casket. "Common drudge" means servant at everyone's command and probably references silver's use as a common monetary form. Notice that Bassanio does not address what the boxes say but instead focuses on the materiality of each box. This suggests that Bassanio already knows the answer to the test and uses this speech to justify his knowing.

"fancy..."   (Act III - Scene II)

In this context, "fancy" means amorous love or devotion. Notice that Morocco and Arragon tried to solve the riddle of the caskets based on external and social understandings of what the caskets represented. For example, Morocco believed that "what men desire" was Portia, so gold must be the right choice. Here, the song focuses on the internal nature of love, suggesting that other suitors failed because they interpreted the test in a shallow way.

"swan-like end,..."   (Act III - Scene II)

A "swan-like end" means a swan song or final performance before death. It was believed that swans only sang once in their lives while they were dying. Using this metaphor, Portia emphasizes the performative nature of Bassanio's love and choice; she imagines his failure like a final performance.

"Let music sound..."   (Act III - Scene II)

While Portia says that she is helpless in her father's will and that she cannot break her oath, she finds a way to surreptitiously influence the outcome of this choice. Unlike the trials of Morocco or Arragon, Portia plays Bassanio a song that will give him the answer to the question if he pays attention. This shows that Portia is not as powerless as she says she is.

" least themselves..."   (Act III - Scene II)

With this line, Bassanio signals that he has understood the song: the caskets are designed so that their outward shells are different from their interior. While Portia did not directly tell Bassanio which casket to choose, she has given him a large clue by telling him the theme of the caskets: appearances may be deceptive.

"'Tween snow and fire..."   (Act III - Scene II)

Bassanio uses this metaphor to dissuade thoughts of anything but love lurking in his affections. By these lines he means that treason and his love cannot coexist in much the same way that snow and fire cannot coexist.

"treason there is mingled..."   (Act III - Scene II)

This could be seen as a playful statement that takes Bassanio's hyperbole at fact for comedic effect. However, the audience might note that there is something vain about Bassanio's love: he has ventured to woo Portia because she is a rich lady and he is a deeply indebted man. Perhaps he has fallen in love with her, or perhaps she detects this ulterior motive in his intentions.

"(but it is not love,)..."   (Act III - Scene II)

Portia wishes that Bassanio would stay with her longer, but she claims that it is not love that compels her to ask him to stay. This suggests that either Portia is trying to coyly hide that she loves Bassanio, or she is very blatantly saying that she wants to keep Bassanio for another purpose, like his money.

"yours..."   (Act III - Scene II)

Notice how confused Portia's speech is here. Scholars have read this confusion as either a sign of her affection for Bassanio or a poor attempt to affect the language of lovers. Because the speech between these two characters is so poor, some scholars have question the authenticity of their love for one another.

"me pay his debt..."   (Act III - Scene III)

Antonio's only wish is that Bassanio sees him perform his act of martyrdom. Some scholars have read this desire as Antonio wanting to show Bassanio how much he loves him; it is one final act of love and confession.

"It..."   (Act III - Scene III)

Notice that Solanio uses pronouns that dehumanize Shylock. He refers to him as "it" instead of as "he."

"gratis..."   (Act III - Scene III)

"Gratis" means free of charge. Remember that Antonio's money lending habits were originally Shylock's lesser complaint about Antonio. He was more concerned with Antonio's abuse of his people and faith. Notice that after Shylock's "conversion" in which he decided to live by Christian example, he focuses on money more than his faith.

"With that we lack..."   (Act III - Scene IV)

Portia is revealing her plan to dress as a man in order to intervene in her husband's affairs. By "accomplished with that we lack," Portia means that their husbands will think that they have male genitalia that they lack because they are women.

"lover of my lord ..."   (Act III - Scene IV)

Notice that Lorenzo's words are both a sincere statement of Antonio's good character and a hint at the nature of Bassanio and Antonio's relationship. This speech emphasizes a theme of careless speech in the play: characters often speak without recognizing what their words imply.

"the more to blame he..."   (Act III - Scene V)

In the Christian tradition, it is believed that all who accept Jesus as their lord and savior are absolved of their past sins and saved. Launcelot seems to miss this important tenant of his own faith when he tells Jessica that she is condemned.

"bastard hope..."   (Act III - Scene V)

"Bastard" means debased or impure, but it also means a child of illegitimate parents. This double meaning hints at Launcelot's only solution to Jessica's "damnation": if she is not actually Shylock's daughter but an illegitimate bastard.

"bound to him...."   (Act IV - Scene I)

Now that Portia has saved Antonio, both Antonio and Bassanio are bound to her rather than bound to each other. Portia has successfully inserted herself into their bond.

"ten more,..."   (Act IV - Scene I)

By this Gratiano means that had he been in charge, Shylock would have faced a jury of twelve men and been sentenced to hang. Notice that even though Shylock has been defeated and forced to convert to Christianity, the Christians still see him as a hated other.

"stole his daughter..."   (Act IV - Scene I)

Antonio offers Shylock a semblance of mercy by allowing him to keep half his fortune and admitting in open court that a Christian stole Jessica. However, his condition is forcing Shylock to recognize Lorenzo as his proper heir, undermining the idea that Jessica was wrongfully taken and essentially condoning the marriage.

"live..."   (Act IV - Scene I)

While an unsympathetic audience may hear Shylock's words as a reflection of an obsession with money, Shylock highlights the lack of mercy within this sentence. As a man hated for his religion and denied all other avenues of work, he cannot survive in Venice without his money and his trade.

"humbleness..."   (Act IV - Scene I)

The Duke offers Shylock to reduce the amount of money he owes the state to a fine by acting "humble." In other words, the Duke asks Shylock to beg for his money. This is neither humility nor mercy on the part of the Christians. The Christians seek to take Shylock's money, the only thing that gave him any power within Venetian society, and force him to grovel to the privileged class. This is a form of humiliation meant to put Shylock back in his place. In pardoning Shylock, the Duke does not offer him mercy but rather makes him an example to all other marginalized peoples that attempt to upset the status quo.

"mercy..."   (Act IV - Scene I)

Notice how the concept of "mercy" has changed here. While at the beginning, Portia triumphed the concept of mercy for mercy's sake, assuming Shylock would simply grant it to Antonio, she expects Shylock to "beg," meaning that he must prove he is worthy of mercy in a way that Antonio did not have to.

"only..."   (Act IV - Scene I)

Under Venetian law, any foreigner who conspires against the life of a Venetian must give half their assets to their victim and the other half to the state. The fate of their life is then left up to the Duke to decide. Notice that Portia, who earlier triumphed mercy, demonstrates extreme prejudice here. She uses Shylock as an example to all other 'aliens' that try to use Venetian laws for their own benefit. She proves that the law is for rich merchants, not marginalized peoples.

"alien..."   (Act IV - Scene I)

Portia converts Shylock, a Venetian citizen, into an alien, or foreigner, in order to enact this bit of the law. Portia stretches the law in order to save Antonio and punish Shylock, proving that the law protects Venice's privileged citizens and neglects its marginalized citizens.

"I have thee on the hip..."   (Act IV - Scene I)

This is a colloquial term taken from wrestling that means to have the upper hand or the advantage. Notice that Gratiano uses Shylock's exact words against him to show that Shylock has lost; he robs Shylock's words of their intended meaning in order to use them against him.

"O upright judge..."   (Act IV - Scene I)

Gratiano uses Shylock's words against him in order to mock him now that the tables have turned. Shylock has repeatedly said that this judge is right and honorable, and now that the judge has used his logic against Shylock, Gratiano wants to remind the court that the judge is right and honorable.

"Barrabas..."   (Act IV - Scene I)

Barabbas and Jesus were imprisoned and sentenced to death at the same time. Barabbas was released when a crowd demanded his salvation over Jesus. Historically, Barabbas and the Jews who protested for his release instead of Jesus's have been blamed for the crucifixion. With this reference Shylock declares that he would rather have his daughter married to a descendant of the man responsible for anti-Semitic hatred than one of these Christian husbands who do not value their wives.

"not once a love...."   (Act IV - Scene I)

This is a rather blatant confession of romantic love for Bassanio. Antonio asks Bassanio to let his wife judge whether or not he had ever been loved, which is a type of claim on Bassanio's heart. This would be problematic for Portia as Antonio is essentially using his death and martyrdom to claim Bassanio's heart for his own.

"Give me your hand..."   (Act IV - Scene I)

In his dying speech, Antonio uses language that parallels the marriage ceremony. In dying for Bassanio's bond, Antonio marries Bassanio to his debt forever.

"do a great right, do a little wrong..."   (Act IV - Scene I)

Bassanio asks this doctor of the law to do a great right, save Antonio's life, while doing a little wrong, defying the law. Bassanio asks for special treatment that will allow his friend out of the constraints of the law. Notice that Bassanio imports religious language, such as devil, in order to subvert the law. Since Bassanio and Antonio are members of the privileged class they see any law that works against them as unfair and therefore inapplicable or mutable.

"my hands, my head, my heart..."   (Act IV - Scene I)

Bassanio pledges his whole self to Antonio before the court. This ironically occurs in front of his wife, to whom he should have already pledged his soul and body. Portia must relieve Antonio of his bond so that her husband is not indebted and bound to his friend but rather indebted and bound to her.

"justice..."   (Act IV - Scene I)

Notice how many times Portia repeats the word "justice" at the end of her speech. The repetition of this word is intended to make the audience question Portia's sincerity.

"mercy seasons justice..."   (Act IV - Scene I)

Portia's understanding of mercy comes from a Christian context in which mercy takes the form of forgiveness from the divine. In Judaism, mercy comes from personal atonement rather than divine mercy. On Yom Kuppur, one fasts, prays, and undertakes apology and restitution for their sins in order to seek atonement, rather than forgiveness, from God. Portia's speech about mercy demonstrates that she does not understand her audience or his faith. She preaches Christian forgiveness to a man who's faith values atonement, restitution, and payment of debt.

"better than his crown..."   (Act IV - Scene I)

Portia's argument here is that "mercy" better demonstrates a monarch's right to rule than symbols of wealth and power, such as a crown, throne, or sceptre. Portia essentially states that power comes from mercy rather than privilege. However, her privileged position as a Christian heiress makes this statement both condescending and ignorant to the plight of marginalized, and systemically powerless, people such as Shylock.

"The quality of mercy is not strain'd, It droppeth, as the gentle rain from heaven..."   (Act IV - Scene I)

Notice the religious underpinnings of this speech. Portia makes an argument about mercy that is set within a Christian context; she argues that Shylock should be merciful because it will bring him closer to God. However, in holding Shylock to a Christian standard of mercy, Portia disregards both the law and Shylock's Judaism.

"thee..."   (Act IV - Scene I)

Here, Gratiano claims that Shylock's soul came from a murderous wolf that transferred itself to Shylock while he was still in his mother's womb. Notice that while Shylock uses animal comparisons to explain his rage, Gratiano metaphorically fuses Shylock with an animal in order to dehumanize him.

"write mine epitaph...."   (Act IV - Scene I)

An epitaph is a phrase or statement used to remember someone that has passed. In this line, Antonio offers his life up for Bassanio's happiness and asks him to "write mine epitaph," essentially asking him to carry his memory forever. If Antonio suffers this price, then Bassanio will never be able to repay him for the bond; Bassanio will forever be metaphorically bonded to, married to, Antonio.

"The pound of flesh, which I demand of him,(100) Is dearly bought; 'tis mine, and I will have it:..."   (Act IV - Scene I)

"Dearly bought" can either mean expensively, or paid for in grave personal loss. This line can be performed and heard in two ways. It is either a sign of the money-hungry Shylock claiming that his loss of money means he deserves his pound of flesh, or it is a sign of his humanity. Shylock has lost everything, including his daughter, and now all that is left is his "dearly bought" revenge.

"Because you bought them..."   (Act IV - Scene I)

Shylock claims that he has a right to do what he likes with Antonio's flesh because he bought it, just as the merchants can do what they like with slaves because they bought them. With this metaphor, Shylock points out the Christian's hypocrisy: they support their cruel laws and customs until they are subjected to them.

"rendering none..."   (Act IV - Scene I)

Again the Duke asks Shylock to be better than the Christians in the play. In this question, the Duke inadvertently claims that Shylock must first show mercy before he can be shown mercy. This is ironic because mercy is a cornerstone of the Christian faith, yet none of the Christians showed Shylock mercy earlier in the play.

"Let me have judgment..."   (Act IV - Scene I)

Antonio uses the word "judgement" to invoke a religious imagery in this action. Antonio's language positions him as a martyr and elevates the payment of his debt to something sacred.

"noise..."   (Act IV - Scene I)

Here Antonio compares the "hard Jewish heart" with forces of nature which cannot be changed: the size of the ocean, the wolf that eats the lamb, the pines that sway in the wind. This is another instance of anti-semitism. Antonio assumes Shylock's reasons are just the result of his " evil Jewish nature" rather than grounded in anything real.

"twice..."   (Act IV - Scene I)

This is an example of stichomythia, a dramatic technique in which characters rapidly exchange dialogue to build tension and emphasize anger or hatred.

"there is no firm reason..."   (Act IV - Scene I)

Shylock uses these examples of arbitrary hatred - such as that towards pigs, cats, and bagpipes - as reasoning for hating Antonio. His logic is that if no one is asked to give a firm reason why they hate a rat, then he does not have to give a firm reason why he hates Antonio. While this seems unfeeling, it is also the logic that underpins racism and anti-semitism: Shylock describes hatred that has no basis except belief in the hatred itself.

"loathes..."   (Act IV - Scene I)

By this Shylock means that the instinctive reaction one has often reveals how much they value it. Notice that Shylock speaks in language that sounds proverbial; however, he does not draw his lessons from scripture as he did in the beginning of the play but from revenge.

"rat..."   (Act IV - Scene I)

Notice that Shylock uses animal imagery within this scene to explain his reasoning. This could be a linguistic reversal of insults Antonio and the Christians used against Jews earlier in the play. Shylock characterizes Antonio as the vermin rat, unclean pig, and shifty cat just as Antonio did to him.

"gentle..."   (Act IV - Scene I)

Gentle puns on the word "gentile," another word for Christians. The Duke narrates what Shylock should do, then ends the speech essentially asking Shylock to imitate the Christians. However, remember that earlier in the play Shylock declared that his adamant desire for revenge was taken from Christian example. Ironically, in attempting to exact revenge, Shylock is imitating the Christians.

"Forgive a moiety..."   (Act IV - Scene I)

The Duke does not only ask Shylock to forgive Antonio the extreme measures of the bond, but also the repayment of the sum in whole. The Duke asks Shylock to show Antonio the mercy that Antonio never showed him; he expects this marginalized character to be magnanimous while the Christians are allowed to not be.

"To suffer..."   (Act IV - Scene I)

Again, Antonio invokes the language of martyrdom. If Antonio positions himself as a martyr who will save Bassanio and the law and order of Venice, then Shylock implicitly becomes the devil who seeks to destroy.

"adversary..."   (Act IV - Scene I)

Notice that the Duke, a supposedly impartial judge, has a clear bias towards Antonio in this case.

"ring..."   (Act V)

The play ends on a pun. "Ring" means both the physical jewelry that Nerissa has given Gratiano and was a slang term for a woman's vagina.

"Give him this And bid him keep it better than the other...."   (Act V)

Portia gives Antonio a ring to give to Bassanio. This symbolically enacts the marriage ceremony: Antonio weds Portia to Bassanio. This cuts Antonio out of the romantic ending and displaces him so that the main bond is between Portia and Bassanio instead of Antonio and Bassanio.

"I am the unhappy subject of these quarrels...."   (Act V)

Notice that Antonio inserts himself into the lovers's quarrel, making himself the subject of their fight and displacing Portia. Portia is immediately dismissive of his claim.

"which is yet mine own,..."   (Act V)

Portia endowed the ring with the symbolic power of her chastity and her vast wealth and gave it to Bassanio. In giving away her ring, now she belongs to the doctor to whom he gave it —which means that she is in possession of herself as she is the doctor. While the audience hears the comedy in this, Bassanio, who does not yet know that Portia posed as his wife, only hears that she will be unfaithful to him now that he has broken his vow to her.

"the ring...."   (Act V)

Notice how many times Portia and Bassanio say the word "ring" during this exchange. Bassanio's emphasis on the ring is it as an object, where as Portia uses her repetition to demonstrate how the ring is a symbol. It is not only a sign of Bassanio's devotion to Portia but of Portia herself.

"What ring gave you my lord? Not that, I hope, which you receiv'd of me...."   (Act V)

Shakespeare uses dramatic irony here to build tension and comedy. Portia and the audience know that Bassanio has given her ring away to the doctor (who was Portia herself). In feigning ignorance to what happened, Portia is able to present herself as an innocent victim and hyperbolize her disappointment.

"cutler's poetry..."   (Act V)

By "cutler's poetry" Gratiano means a juvenile verse, similar to the kind of inscription that might be written on a knife. Gratiano adds insult to injury by devaluing the ring, a symbol of his commitment to Nerissa.

"He knows me as the blind man knows the cuckoo,..."   (Act V)

Notice that Lorenzo immediately recognizes Portia by her voice while Bassanio could not recognize her by appearance or voice during the trial. Even though Portia was in disguise in Venice, the immediate recognition that occurs in this scene problematizes Bassanio's easy acceptance of Portia's disguise.

"greater glory dim the less..."   (Act V)

Portia's poetic description of the candle and the moon underscore her own relationship. Portia, like the little candle in her house, is being over shadowed by a "greater glory," Bassanio's love for Antonio.

"Erebus..."   (Act V)

Erebus was a dark place in Greek mythology that lay between Earth and Hades, life and death. Lorenzo equates a descent from life into Hades to not liking music. Because Jessica has just said that she does not like music, this criticism seems to be directed at her.

"holy crosses..."   (Act V)

By "holy crosses" the messenger means roadside shrines. He uses this metaphor to show the audience that Portia is traveling and that she is anxious. By kneeling and praying for her husband Jessica and Lorenzo may hear that she is worried about the situation between Antonio and Shylock. However, as we have just witnessed the resolution of that problem, we know that she is more anxious that Bassanio loves Antonio more than her.

"The man that hath no music in himself, Nor is not mov'd with concord of sweet sounds, Is fit for treasons,..."   (Act V)

Here, Lorenzo claims that there is something inherently wrong with people who do not like music. They are deceptive and lower than animals as animals are even moved by "sweet sounds." Shylock and Jessica are the only two characters in the play who express distaste for music, suggesting that they have a darker disposition or propensity for treason. Notice that these lines occur after Shylock has been defeated and Portia has claimed that Christians should have mercy. This suggests that the Christians have learned nothing and that the antisemitic hierarchy persists in Venice.