The Merchant of Venice

How does Shylock’s first appearance in “The Merchant of Venice” Act 1 Scene 3 satisfactorily prepare you for his portrayal and involvement in the bond plot throughout the play?

This scene in which Shylock first appears shows the audience how selfish and conceited his character is. Shylock is portrayed as a money hungry, selfish man and this is exactly how an audience from the Elizabethan era would have viewed Jews. This was an era when Jews were completely banished from England and there would have been much prejudice towards them. Shylock is a caricature of a Jew, accepted by Christians, and is portrayed as such throughout the play.

Act 1 Scene 3 opens to negative, discordant music, this really sets the tone for the rest of the scene. It sets the audience up for an important showdown between Shylock, the Jew and Bassanio and Antonio, the Christians. It grabs the viewers attention and engages them in what is to follow.

The first words spoken by Shylock are concerning money. Money is a large part of his life, as a money lender, “Three thousand ducats-well”. This immediately brings our attention to money, and emphasises Shylock’s greed. The greed is emphasised by Shylock’s shifty, squinting eyes in the video. Shylock enjoys talking about money, he likes it because he has something that a Christian wants and this makes him, as a Jew, feel superior towards him which was a rare opportunity at this time given society’s attitudes. Because of this Shylock wants to make this meeting between Bassanio and himself last as long as possible.

At the start of the scene there is a strong juxtaposition between the near perfect silhouette of Bassanio, the Christian, and the short, fat, Jew with the head cap. Even Shylock’s build insinuates that he is greedy. Because Bassanio juxtaposes Shylock so much, we can already guess that there will be conflict between the two characters.

The body language between the two is very different. Bassanio stands tall and graciously, as a Christian would have thought to in this era. Whereas Shylock is bent over, looks at the ground, and makes a lot of hand gestures. Because of Shylock’s height, Bassanio is forever looking down at him, this is deliberate, to show the superiority of the Christians over the Jews in Elizabethan England.

Shylock turns Bassanio and the audience against him even more when he criticises Jesus in a rant when Bassanio offers him to “dine” with Antonio and himself,

“Yes to smell pork, to eat of the habitation which

your prophet the Nazarite conjured the devil into. I

will buy with you, sell with you…But I will not

eat with you, drink with you…”

(Act 1 Scene3 lines 31-36)

This shows Shylocks true hatred for Christians, but yet he is so obsessed with revenge he is more than willing to push his beliefs to one side and lend the money out.

Shylock shows a hatred for Antonio, more personal than just him being a Christian, he justifies his behaviour and feelings towards him,

“Fair sir, you spat on me Wednesday last,

You spurned me such a day, another time

You called me dog; and for these courtesies

I’ll lend you thus much moneys’?”

(Act 1 Scene 3 lines 123-126)

Shylock shows a softer side to his personality at this point. There is a close up also, as if we are getting up close to his personal pain and hurt, and hunger for revenge. Although this just makes the audience realise how intent Shylock is on getting revenge for what he has gone through.

We see a more sneaky part to Shylock’s character as he goes aside out of Antonio and Bassanio’s hearing,

I hate him for he is a Christian.

But more, for that in low simplicity

He lends out money gratis, and brings down

The rate of usance here with us in Venice.

If I can catch him once upon the hip,

I will feed fat the ancient grudge I bear him.”

(Act 1 Scene 3 lines 39-44)

This shows he can be very sly and that the bonhomie has all been an act and very insincere. Shylock can be very two faced and change moods to suit the situation he is in or what he can gain if he does so.

From this scene we realise the conflict between the Christians and Shylock and the audience knows there