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Merchant of Venice, B4r

Editorial note

The Merchant of Venice took place in a tumultuous time in English history, as feudalism was beginning to give way to capitalism, and society as a whole was adjusting to this change. In our digital edition of B4r, we took an anti-capitalist stance in our reading of the play. Theories on the transition from Karl Marx as well as other philosophers guided our edits and informed our decisions in creating this contemporary digital edition.  

Money related language is written in green, to emphasize it and bring attention to the historical anxieties associated with a transition from feudalism to capitalism. We chose green both because it is the color most associated with money in the modern world, as well as the color’s association with envy and greed, which often come with a society that values profit over all- a theme definitely present today. The language that insinuates the violence, dehumanization, and competition that are the consequences of a capitalist society is written in red.  We chose red to emphasize these words because of both its starkness and the way it immediately draws the eye along with using it to represent the bloodshed that capitalism brings with it. 

Capitalism encourages conflict and bigotry with its love of competition. The arguing of Shylock and Antonio is used on this page to represent a much larger issue that came with the introduction of capitalism into this society. The two portray a growing conflict between Christians and Jews that was exacerbated by the growth of a free market. When profit is valued over people, cultural anxiety turns to fear which turns to bigotry and violence. 

Another editorial value we held in our edits was accessibility. We set out to make this digital edition accessible to both those who may have accessibility needs, by making the page readable by a voice reader, as well as to those who may be just starting out on their Shakespeare journey. Reading Shakespeare in its original form can often present language barriers to those who may be unfamiliar with the writing style of the time that can bar those people from ever engaging in the discourse community. This can create a feedback echo chamber where only those most well versed in the language are ever able to contribute, especially impacting younger students. We have attempted to make our edition more accessible by changing the long S and other spelling discrepancies to be denoted by bolded text rather than spelling to allow easier reading. This leaves the original text intact, while not making our edition inaccessible.

the Merchant of Venice.

As to thy friends, for when did friendship take

A breede for barraine mettaile of his friend? 1

But lend it rather to thine Enemie,

Who if he breake, thou maist with better face

Exact the penaltie. 2


Shy. Why looke you how you storme,

I would be friends with you, and have your love,

Forget the shames that you haue staind me with,

Supply your present wants, and take no doyte

Of usance for my moneyes, and youle not heare mee,  3

this is kinde I offer.


Bass. This were kindnesse.


Shyl. This kindnesse will I showe,

Goe with me to a Notarie, seale me there

Your single bond, and in a merrie sport

if you repay me not on such a day

in such a place, such summe or summes as are

exprest in the condition, let the forfaite

be nominated for an equall pound

of your faire flesh, to be cut off and taken

in what part of your bodie pleaseth me.


Ant. Content infaith, I’ll seale to such a bond,

and say there is much kindnes in the Jew.


Bass. You shall not seale to such a bond for me,

Ile rather dwell in my necessitie.


An. Why feare not man, I will not forfaite it,

within these two months, thats a month before

this bond expires, I doe expect returne

of thrice three times the valew of this bond.


Shy. O father Abram, what these Christians are,

Whose owne hard dealings teaches them suspect  4

the thoughts of others: Pray you tell me this,

if he should breake his day what should I gaine

by the exaction of the forfeyture?

A pound of mans flesh taken from a man5

is not so estimable, profitable neither

as flesh of Muttons, Beefes, or Goates,  I say 6

Image credit: Rare Books & Manuscripts Department, Boston Public Library, copy G.176.16. The most excellent historie of the merchant of Venice. First Quarto. London: 1600.

Citing this page: Shakespeare, William. The Merchant of Venice, B4r. London: 1600. Cacodemon Digital Shakespeare. Edited by Doga Tasdemir and Kayleigh Birney. Source edition: Rare Books & Manuscripts Department, Boston Public Library (copy G.176.16).


  1. This implies that in a society driven by profit and exploitation, friendship and human kindness will always take the backburner. This hyperbole of fear can be tied to the anxieties associated with the transition from feudalism to capitalism
  2.   Throughout this scene in general, but especially in deciding the consequences of debt, there is no foreseeable positive outcome from the transaction. At best, the debt will be repaid and Antonio will not lose a "pound of flesh." This once again gives insight into Shakespeare's outlook on the nature of capitalism as inherently evil.
  3. This ties capitalism and religion together as Shakespeare paints an antisemetic narrative with the character of Shylock. He connects Judiasm to capitalism and Christianity to socialism or communalism. The dichotomy between the two is quite similar to Karl Marx's anti semitic langauge in discussing the common good versus prioritizing the individual.
  4. In this play, both characters observe different forms of capitalism. Shylock makes money on loans whereas Antonio's wealth is based on trade of material goods. Though Antonio attempts to appear as if his lifestyle is more morally just, Shylock points out that this is not necessarily true as Antonio's financial gain is rooted in slavery.
  5. In this line we see the consequences of the rise of capitalism. Within capitalism human bodies are unworthy unless they are able to be profited from. A pound of flesh becomes a payment, only worthy when paying off an unpaid debt. Capitalism encourages this kind of competition and hatred among the community, rather than uniting the community together; Shylock and Antonio are driven to despise each other.
  6. This once again re-emhpasizes that in Shylock's eyes, profit is more valuable than human life.