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Merchant of Venice, C3r

Editorial note

For our digital edition of C3r, we wanted to focus on the play’s anti-semitism and the refusal of Christians to accept that a Jew could be wealthier and a master of a functional household. To highlight this concept, we transcribed the text into a more readable translation so that a modern-day audience will better relate to the original anti-semitism rather than dismiss it as an old relic. However, we maintained some of the words that we felt were either necessary for the content or did not greatly interfere with the readability. With this slight modernization, readers will also be able to focus on the specific content of the play rather than spending their time trying to interpret old spelling and writing styles. We chose to add footnotes and bold the words they referred to, instead of highlighting or otherwise color-coding, so that while our analysis will be at the forefront, the audience will have the opportunity to read and analyze the text for themselves first. Our goal for this transcription is to convey through the context of historical references how the anti-semitic social dynamics of the time affected every relationship, whether it was business or personal.

Gob. He has a great infection sir, as one would say to serve.
Lau. Indeed the short and the long is, I serve the Jew1, & have
a desire as my Father shall specify.
Gob. His Master and he (saving your worships reverence) are
scarce cater-cousins,
Lau. To be brief, the very truth is, that the Jew having done
me wrong, doth cause me as my Father being I hope an old man
shall fructify unto you.
Gob. I have here a dish of Doves that I would bestow vppon
your worship, and my suit is.
Lau. In very brief, the suit is impertinent to myself, as your
worship shall know by this honest old man, and though I say it,
though old man, yet poor man my Father.
Bass. One speak for both, what would you?
Laun. Serve you sir2.
Gob. That is the very defect3 of the matter sir.
Bass. I know thee well, thou hast obtained thy suit,
Shylocke thy Master spoke with me this day,
And hath preferred thee, if it be preferment
To leave a rich Jew's service, to become
The follower of so poor a Gentleman4.
Clowne5. The old proverb6 is very well parted betweene my Master
Shylocke and you sir, you have the grace of God sir, and he
hath enough.
Bass. Thou speakst it well; go Father with thy Son
Take leave of thy old Master7, and inquire
My lodging out, give him a Livery
More guarded then his fellows: see it done.
Clowne. Father in, I cannot get a service, no, I have ne'er a tongue
in my head, well: if any man in Italy have a fairer table which
doth offer to swear upon a book, I shall have good fortune;
go too, here's a simple line of life, here's a small trifle of wives8,
alas, fifteen wives is nothing, eleven widows and nine maids
is a simple coming in for one man, and then to scape drowning
thrice, and to be in peril of my life with the edge of a featherbed,
here are simple scapes: well, if Fortune be a woman she's a good
wench for this gear: Father come, I'll take my leave of the Jew in

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, C3r. London: 1600. Cacodemon Digital Shakespeare. Edited by Mira Chadha, Grace Horne. Source edition: Rare Books & Manuscripts Department, Boston Public Library (copy G.176.16).


Barker, C.R. “Shackles in Shakespeare: On the Falsity of Personal Liberty in Renaissance England.” Liverpool Law Rev 35, 2014, pp. 25–42.

Battell, Sophie. Hospitality in Shakespeare: the case of The Merchant of Venice, Troilus and Cressida and Timon of Athens. PhD Thesis, Cardiff University, 2017.

Davis, Robert C., and Benjamin Ravid. The Jews of Early Modern Venice. Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001, pp. 3-52.

Romano, Dennis. “The Regulation of Domestic Service in Renaissance Venice.” The Sixteenth Century Journal, vol. 22, no. 4. The Sixteenth Century Journal, 1991, pp. 661–677. JSTOR,  

Shakespeare, William. “The Merchant of Venice.” The Norton Shakespeare: The Essential Plays/The Sonnets. Edited by Stephen Greenblatt, 3rd ed.,W.W. Norton & Company, 2016, pp. 281-335.


  1. This statement suggests that Launcelet is in a contract with Shylocke to serve him for some set amount of time. To break this would be breaking the law (Romano 663).
  2. Leaving a master's service was an illegal act, both for the servant and for his new master. The fact that this is treated as a business decision rather than a crime is an example of the pervasive anti-semitism of the Venetian people and government (Romano 664).
  3. "early 15c., 'want or lack of anything,' especially lack of something essential to perfection or completeness, from Old French defect and directly from Latin defectus 'failure, revolt, falling away'" (Online Etymology Dictionary: Defect).
  4. Despite Shylocke's superior wealth, he is still treated as inferior to Bassanio due to his religion (Davis 7).
  5. There is a switch here from Launcelet being referred to by his name to him being referenced as the "Clowne." It is significant to note that this change only takes place after his loyalties go from Shylock to Bassanio (Battell 51).
  6. "The grace of God is gear enough" (Greenblatt 295).
  7. "Anyone who knowingly hired a servant who left the service of another master without his permission would be liable for a 100 lire di piccoli fine" (Romano 663).
  8. The law "legislated against male and female servants who brought others into the homes of their masters to fornicate..." (Romano 665). This implies that the newfound quality of Launcelet's servitude may hint at the possibility of him rising in social rank, as well as at the idea that Bassanio's employ may one day allow him to leave servitude altogether.