This critical analysis of page G4v of The Merchant of Venice is primarily for those interested in a religious perspective of the imagery used to other Shylock and position him opposite the main characters. This passage utilizes religious language in its characterization of both Bassanio and Shylock in court, positioning the former as a weary, innocent Christian and the latter as a religious other.
Bassanio’s line “the Jew shall have my flesh, blood, bones, and all ere thou shalt loose for me one drop of blood” invokes religious imagery of the Eucharist. The symbolic image of Christ giving his “flesh and blood” for humanity’s sake is present in this statement. Bassanio says he will sooner give his flesh, blood, bones to Shylock for Antonio’s sake, and if Shylock is the one exacting payment, we can easily equate him with the devil (the one who requires payment for mankind’s sin debt). This further positions Bassanio sacrificially (for Antonio, the debtor) and Shylock as one exacting a harsh debt.
The characterization of Shylock also depends upon this religious imagery, especially with regard to the word flocke. Bassanio’s characterization of himself: “I am a tainted weather of the flock, meetest for death” (i.e. a sickly sheep in God’s flock, deserving of death). The italicization of the I (which has been preserved in the edited transcript) communicates an emphasis on Bassanio’s place within God’s flock of sheep (i.e., a Christian). The flock in question, however, Shylock has no part in due to his Jewishness, and Bassanio’s words position Shylock as a religious other.
Furthermore, “O thou be damn’d,” serves as a double religious invocation. While “damn you” is a common enough curse, it also carries a connotation of posthumous damnation to hell for Shylock. This is further emphasized by Gratiano’s line, “Not on thy sole: but on thy soul, harsh Jew, thou makest thy knife keen.” His evildoing is at the expense of his soul, pushing him further and further away from the moral good and into the religious other. And Gratiano further adds, “Can no prayers pierce thee?” which again sets him opposite Christianity as a heathen that prayers cannot reach. Within the narrative’s framework, Shylock is unsavable.
This page was edited with the intent of maintaining as much textual accuracy to the original image displayed at left as possible. The s characters are written with the original curved ſ figure instead of the modernized s figure. Additionally, v and vv to depict the u and the w are maintained. The original early modern spellings are also preserved. Original italicizations are also preserved for emphasis.
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, G4v. London: 1600. Cacodemon Digital Shakespeare. Edited by Emily Betts. Source edition: Rare Books & Manuscripts Department, Boston Public Library (copy G.176.16). http://cacodemonshakespeare.com/comedies/merchant/g4v.