MOV: Act 1 Scene 3

How does Shakespeare make the scene dramatic?

“A villain is just a victim whose story hasn’t been told”, this quote by Chris Colfer aptly describes the predicament Shylock is currently in. He is one of the most controversial characters created by William Shakespeare. This scene marks the end of the exposition and simultaneously introduces to the audience; Shylock’s crafty, unscrupulous and cruel character.This scene is made significant; with the aid of allusions, foreshadowing and diction; coupled with effectual use of language, humour and repetition.

Shakespeare commences the given extract by a conversation between Bassanio and Shylock ‘the Jew’. The audience could witness the swift pace of the conversation as a result of the implementation of short dialogues, with contrasting dialect. Bassanio talks to Shylock in a sophisticated, respectful tone and even refers to Shylock as “sir”. This is fairly noticeable by analysing the way Bassanio converses, referring Shylock as “Ay, sir” which is justly comprehensible as Bassanio is a lord. This contradicts the rustic diction of Shylock as a consequence to him frequently falling short of words and being unable to complete his sentences, and reiterating numerous words.This in turn contrasts his profession as a moneylender, who is stereotypically viewed as a sophisticated individual with a refined sense of dialect. This is also seen in the latter portion of the extract when he runs out of words, “I will be assured I may; and that I may be assured, I will bethink me -”. On the other hand, one may also notice desperation and anxiety on Bassanio’s part to gain the money. Bassanio’s use of a triple question; “May you stead me? Will you pleasure me? Shall I know your answer?” further reiterates on Bassanios’s impatience. By asking three questions in a row, Bassanio does not give a chance to Shylock to answer and is thus portrayed as an immature character. Historically, Jews and Christians are portrayed as arch rivals. Since Shylock was a Jew, and Bassanio a Christian, Bassanio may be unsure of whether he should borrow money from shylock or not. This can be seen by means of Bassanio’s constant interruptions, which make him seem frantic and anxious to get the deal over with. Shylocks perpetual pauses could also be seen as him calculating and analysing his plan of action pertaining to the new developments. This could foreshadow Shylock’s absurd condition for a bond as a means to take revenge from Antonio.Consequently, Antonio’s hatred of Shylock is also well presented in this extract. When Antonio walks upon the stage, he is only introduced by Bassanio and makes no attempt to greet Shylock. He address Shylock in a commanding tone and treats him in a harsh and brutal manner even though it his him who has come to ask a favour of Shylock. All of Antonio’s dialogues are short, simple phrases in contrast to Shylock’s long exquisite dialogues. A reader may also interpret Antonio’s love for Bassanio, for he is willing to ask a favour from a Jewish moneylender, Shylock; who he obviously hates, just to “supply the ripe wants of my friend (Bassanio)”.

Shylock is also seen ‘haggling’ quite a lot by explaining to Bassanio the “perils of waters, winds and rocks”. Shakespeare also uses foreshadowing when Shylocks delivers this dialogue to hint at forthcoming events in the play. This particular dialogue traces the fate of Antonio’s ‘Argosy’ and the fact that his entire career and future is dependent upon those ships and he will be devastated if he suffers any bolt from the blue, as he has invested in them, both time and money. This conveniently serves Shylock as a means of revenge. Thus Shylock could be pondering over the deal to set a trap for Antonio, before cementing the deal.This is further reiterated when Shylock decides to ‘take his bond’ despite his suspicion which he revealed to Bassanio.Shakespeare seems to have exploited the use foreshadowing in order to signify future events in the play and made it blatantly obvious which way the play is going to proceed. This may have been done to bridge the intellectual gap between the people of varied intelligence present in the audience, in order to make the play accessible for all.

After Shylock claims that he “may take his bond”, Bassanio had the courtesy of inviting Shylock to dine with him and Antonio, Shylock interjects his sentence in between and makes his stance crystal clear to the audience. He states that he will “buy with you, sell with you, talk with you, walk with you” but would never “eat with you, drink with you, nor pray with you”. This lucidly shows how he would only wish to maintain business relations with Bassanio and Antonio but never an intimate relationship. This highlights his hatred of Christians and also gives the audience a gist of his inner motives that the only reason he’s even conversing with them is to gain vengeance. His straightforward approach again contradicts his profession and explicates that he wants this notion to be coherent to them and doesn’t hesitate in being direct about the same. This scene brings about the underlining theme of friendship and vengeance that runs throughout the course of the play.

Repetition is a distinctive feature of Shylock’s speech, his very first dialogue reveals his cautious and calculative mind: “Three thousand ducats, well”; “For three months, well’; “Antonio shall become bound, well”; ‘Three thousand ducats for three months, and Antonio bound’. These phrases can also be seen as Shylock’s attempt to cherish his moment of triumph and to assert his dominance over Bassanio for Shylock understands that he has the upper hand in the given situation. He is shown to be smug and his repetitive unresponsive comments can be attempts to annoy Bassanio. The reiteration of these phrases depicts how Shylock is being scornful to them by making them realise that he has the upper hand, while subsequently acting ‘pricey’. This shows the playwright’s peculiar use of humour and mockery in order to further elucidate the feelings of the characters in this play. Antonio is likewise seen being witty at a certain instance in the given extract, when Shylock is referring to the Genesis and explaining to him how interest is a blessing, if it’s not stolen. When he started his soliloquy talking about Jacob, Antonio asks “and what of him, did he take interest?”. This shows how Antonio was targeting the ‘Hebrews’ and pointing out the fact that all the Jews are seeking for interest, which for all Christians is morally and ethically incorrect. Shylock, during the course of his haggling, is explaining to Bassanio the dangers that the argosies might face. He points out to one of the silliest of dangers, fearing the “land rats and the water rats”. This implication of humour depicts how desperately Shylock was trying to negotiate, and is seen persuading Bassanio, as he sees this as an opportunity to take revenge from Antonio.

At Antonio’s arrival, Shakespeare meritoriously gives Shylock a lengthy aside to describe his feelings towards the “prodigal Christian”, Antonio. Shakespeare give Shylock an aside to spill out his feelings about Antonio to the audience to give them an insight into his motivation and role in the play. The other characters are not even hinted of any such dialogue. He luridly reveals his hatred for Antonio and confesses that he “hate(s) him for he is a Christian”, this builds on to the already prevalent theme in the play, hatred between Jews and Christians. Thus it leads the audience to safely assume Shylock to be the antagonist in the play, and would be a major contributor to the tribulations encountered by Antonio and Bassanio in the progression the play. He believes himself to be morally and ethically correct if he takes revenge from Antonio.He also reveals to the spectators that he thinks Antonio to be a threat to his moneylending business as Antonio’s practice of lending money “gratis” which hampers Shylocks business by bringing down the rate of interest in Venice. His monologue elucidates his plight to the audience. But just as the audience starts to view him as a victim rather than a villain, in a bitter tone of disgust and suppressed anger, he clearly makes a statement of never forgiving Antonio; which can also be seen as foreshadowing for future events in the play.

Shakespeare also incorporates the usage of Allusions to make the events more momentous. As a jibe to Antonio’s religious integrity as a Christian, he states “methoughts you said you neither lend nor borrow upon advantage”. According to Jesus Christ’s teachings, Christians were interdicted from borrowing or lending money if interest was involved. Being Jewish, Shylock was free to practice the same. He even goes as far as to cite scriptures from the Bible itself to justify his charging of his “well won thrift” i.e. interest. He also does this to reveal flaws in Christianity, thereby further building on to the theme of ‘Jews versus Christians’. Shylock also uses the phrase “fawning publican” to describe Antonio. Publicans were roman tax collectors and were generally oppressive. ‘publican’ is a natural term for contempt and loathing usually used by a Jew. Here shylock uses this term to express his contempt for a man (Antonio), who used to spit upon him but now is thanklessly asking for his help.

Many themes and motifs are also prevalent in the scene. Throughout the scene, Antonio appears to be naïve in contrast to Shylock. Shylock has money, which Antonio needs to borrow; but he does not understand Shylock’s intentions. In fact, Antonio puts his life in the hands of an enemy and rests the outcome on fortune, i.e. whether or not his merchant galleys would survive pirates and high seas. Antonio and Shylock are opposed to one another. Shylock is cunning and crafty while Antonio is easy going and trustworthy. Shylock depends on what is tangible, i.e. the bond while Antonio depends on what is intangible, i.e. luck. Even though all the above factors sway the balance towards Shylock, he is the one who loses in the end.

With the vivacious use of literary devices, Shakespeare is able to magnify the utter significance of the scene.


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