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Merchant of Venice, H2r

Editorial note

This page, from Act 4, Scene 1, describes how Portia, disguised as Balthazar, a wise lawyer, tries to negotiate with Shylock, the moneylender, about the agreement he made with Antonio. In China, the undergraduate course of Shakespeare usually focuses on either the translation of the plays or introducing the generic or the so-called universally acknowledged theme from the plays. For example, in the teaching of The Merchant of Venice, specifically this page, Shylock would usually and simply be read as vengeful and cruel, while Portia as merciful, wise, and fair. This reading, if not wrong, is too generic and superficial. More importantly, it can be considered as an implicit perpetuation and endorsement of using “Jew” “as both a racial and religious label” (Britton, 108) because Shylock is Jewish while Portia, Bassanio, and Antonio are Christians. Therefore, as opposed to endorsing racial and religious stigma in the play, I divide my intention of this editorial project into two: to condemn such negative ideology by offering visual intervention in the page; to render it accessible to college students who are interested in The Merchant of Venice, regardless of their disciplines, in an attempt to help them delve deeper into the theme of the play.


Specifically, there are a couple of steps to achieve my goals. First, I turn Shylock’s lines into blue, while Portia’s, Bassanio’s, and Antonio’s lines red, in an attempt to visually accentuate how Shylock’s status is different from the other three Christian characters’ status. The colors here do not have special connotation; they are simply used for visual contrast. Then, notes are provided for noteworthy words or lines to a) demonstrate how Shylock is stereotyped and prejudiced as merciless and evil because of his ethnicity and religion as a Jew and b) how Portia, Bassanio, and Antonio are portrayed as compassionate, humane, wise, and fair because they are white Christians, and c) help Chinese college students better understand the English version. Finally, as this page is specially designed for college students from different disciplines, I transcribe the lines into contemporary English and provide corresponding Chinese translations. The reason why I only translate the play but not the note is because I assume that students who are interested in Shakespeare's plays may simultaneously be interested in English or at least have basic reading proficiency in English. The translation of the play can initially help them gain a general understanding of the plots, with which they can think deeply with the help of the notes.  In this way, I hope my Chinese readers will have a better and more in-depth understanding of the theme in The Merchant of Venice.



Britton Austin, Dennis. “Flesh and Blood: Race and Religion in The Merchant of Venice.” The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare and Race, Cambridge University Press, 2021.

The Merchant of Venice

[Bassanio] That malice1 bears down2 truth. And I beseech you (那他就是存心害人,不顾天理了。)

Wrest3 once the law to your authority; (请堂上运动权利,把法律稍为变通一下,)

To do a great right4 to do a little wrong5 (犯一次小小的错误,干一件大大的功德,)

And curb this cruel devil6 of his will. (别让这个残忍的恶魔逞他杀人的兽欲。)


Portia It must not7 be. There is no power in Venice (那可不行)

Can alter a decree established8 . (在威尼斯谁也没有权利变更既成的法律;)

It will be recorded for a precedent, (这等于开了一个恶例,)

And many an error by the same example (以后谁都可以借口有例可援,什么坏事都可以干了。)

Will rush into the state. It cannot be9 . (这是不行的。)


Shylock A Daniel10 come to judgment! Yea, a Daniel! (一个丹尼尔来做法官了!真的是丹尼尔再世!)

O wise young judge, how I do honor11 thee! (聪明的青年法官啊,我真佩服你!)


Portia I pray12 you, let me look upon the bond. (请你让我瞧一瞧那借约。)


Shylock Here it is, most reverend doctor, here it is13 . (在这儿,尊敬的法官,请看吧。)


Portia Shylock, there’s thrice your money offered you14 . (夏洛克,他们愿意出三倍的钱还你呢。)


Shylock An oath, an oath, I have an oath in heaven. (我已经对天发过誓啦。)

Shall I lay perjury upon my soul15 ? (难道我可以让我的灵魂悲伤毁誓的罪民吗?)

Not, not for Venice16 ! (不,把整个儿威尼斯给我我都不能答应。)


Portia Why, this bond is forfeit, (好,那么就应该照约处罚。)

And lawfully by this the Jew may claim (根据法律)

A pound of flesh17 to be by him cut off (这个犹太人有权从这个商人的胸口割下一磅肉来。)

Nearest the merchant’s heart. Be merciful18 (还是慈悲一点吧!)

Take thrice thy money; bid me tear the bond! (把三倍的钱拿去,让我撕了这张条约吧!)


Shylock When it is paid according to the tenor. (等他按照条约中所定条款受罚后,再撕不迟。)

It does appear you are a worthy judge; (您瞧上去像是一个很好的法官;)

You know the law; your exposition (您懂得法律,)

Has been most sound. I charge you by the law (您讲的话也很有道理,)

Whereof you are a well-deserving pillar, (您不愧是法律界的中流砥柱,)

Proceed to judgment. By my soul I swear19 (所以现在我就用法律的名义,请您立刻进行宣判。凭着我的灵魂起誓,)

There is no power in the tongue of man20 (谁也不能用他的口舌改变我的决心。)

To alter me! I stay here on my bond. (我现在等着执行原约。)


Antonio Most heartily I do beseech21 the court (我也诚心请求堂上)

To give the judgment. (对我宣判。)


Portia Why, then, thus it is: (好,那么就这样:)

You must prepare your bosom22 for his knife. (你必须做好准备,让他的刀刺进你的胸膛。)


Shylock O noble judge, O excellent23 young man! (啊!尊敬的法官!啊!好一位优秀的青年!)


Portia For the intent and purpose of the law (因为这条约上所定的惩罚,)

Have full relation to the penalty, (就法律条文而言,是完全有效的。)


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, H2r. London: 1600. Cacodemon Digital Shakespeare. Edited by Minghao Liu. Source edition: Rare Books & Manuscripts Department, Boston Public Library (copy G.176.16).


  1. Shylock’s malice
  2. overwhelm
  3. twist/bend
  4. a fair outcome
  5. manipulate the law; in this line, Bassanio believes that even though the law is manipulated, it is for the fairer or greater outcome. However, it should be noted here that this fairness is for Antonio’s (a Christian’s) fairness, which is prioritized over Shylock’s (a Jew’s) situation. Meanwhile, Bassanio’s plea for mercy and leniency here showcases his compassion for his Christian friend as opposed to Shylock’s Jewish mercilessness.
  6. “Devil” here serves as the same function as malice in the lines above. Note that here Bassanio uses “malice” and “devil” to describe Shylock, which express Bassanio’s (a Christian’s) feeling of hatred for Shylock, a Jew. Bassanio’s lines here is the continuation of the previous page in which he claims that he is willing to pay ten times the sum of money or give up his hands, his head, and his heart as long as Shylock accepts them. If Shylock is still not satisfied, he will be thought of malicious by Bassanio. It can be implied from these words and lines that compassion and benevolence only exist between Christians and serve as a weapon to discriminate against Jewish people.
  7. “Must”, according to OED, is used to say that something is necessary or very important, sometimes involving a rule or a law. Here the word can imply that what Portia (disguised as Balthazar) says is equal to the law, which also indicates the authority and fairness of Christianity.
  8. Here Portia is emphasizing incapability of Venice’s legal system to overturn an established law, which again demonstrates the fairness of what Portia, the white Christian says.
  9. Portia fears that changing the law based on personal feelings will lead to chaos—many an error, inciting others to challenge the law within the state’s legal system. Portia’s fear demonstrates the necessary of a stable Christian society as well as the Christian humanity because no chaos or errors are allowed to cause unfairness to any one in Venice.
  10. Daniel in the Apocrypha refers to the youth Daniel who is known for his wisdom and fairness in judgement. Here it implicitly equates Portia—white Christian—with fairness and wisdom. However, as “Daniel” is quoted from Apocrypha, which, though a Christian religious text and related to the Bible, is not officially considered as part of it, it may undermine Shylock’s qualification as a Jew of the quotation of Bible.
  11. Honor means to show great respect for someone. Here the dramatic irony, where Portia, while not having knowledge about law, displays her intelligence and sophisticated understanding of the law, which later influences the trial’s outcome in an unexpected way, indicates how gullible and unintelligent Jewish people are because Shylock can easily be manipulated by Portia.
  12. “Pray” here means please. Portia wishes to examine the terms of the bond/agreement, which, on the one hand, indicates the friendship and compassion between white Christians, on the other hand, shows Portia’ wisdom as she needs to examine it carefully
  13. The way Shylock presents the bond—saying “Here it is” twice and referring Portia to the most reverend doctor—indicates that Shylock believes in Portia’s (a white Christian’s) knowledge. This is also a crucial moment in which Portia plays a significant role in delivering the judgement that ultimately resolves the conflict. It demonstrates Christian power in making the final judgement.
  14. After carefully examining the bond, Portia confirms that Shylock will be given three times the money he is owed and attempts to persuade him to show mercy to Antonio. This highlights the theme of Christian compassion, appealing to Shylock’s sense of humanity, which conversely may indicate Shylock’s (Jewish people’s) inhumanity.
  15. Shylock is facing a moral dilemma, questioning whether he should break his oath and commit perjury to avoid the damnation of his soul. It is ironic here because it is now Shylock who is treated unfairly who should be guilty.
  16. However, Shylock refuses to break his oath, even for the sake of Venice. This indicates Shylock’s (Jewish people’s) strong adherence to the term of the contract and his commitment. But such adherence and commitment, in Christians’ eyes, will cause cruel, merciless, and malicious result. In a sense, Jewish faith is denigrated by Christian faith.
  17. Flesh is brought up here to indicate that it is Shylock (the Jew) who is so cruel that even a pound of flesh can be cut off. On stage, this can reinforce the merciless image of Jewish people.
  18. Portia still continues to plead for Shylock’s mercy, which presents the image that it is the merciful, compassionate, and white Christian here that try to avoid the extreme and cruel penalty committed by the Jew.
  19. It reinforces Shylock’s strong faith.
  20. After praising Portia’s legal knowledge and interpretation of the law—referring to “worthy” and “sound” above—Shylock asserts that nothing can change his determination to claim his legal entitlement according to the terms of the bond. This line again reinforce the disastrousness of Shylock’s (Jewish) faith.
  21. This word showcases Antonio’s willingness to accept the court’s judgement, which evokes the audience’s empathy for him, a Christian, and their hatred for Shylock, a Jew.
  22. The definition and connotation of bosom here is noteworthy. Bosom can mean a situation in which you are with people who love and protect you. Here that Antonio’s bosom will be cut by Shylock’s knife may indicate that Antonio may no longer be under Christian protection and he will lose Christian friendship because of Jew’s revenge and cruelty.
  23. Together with to the word “noble” in this line, the world “excellent” is the sixth times that Shylock praises Portia as a great lawyer. The repetition of praise play an important role in reinforcing Christian’s nobility, excellence, and fairness.
  24. From the blue part, we can see Shylock's speeches either praise Portia's wisdom, nobility, and excellence, or display his cruelty and mercilessness, while the red lines stand exactly the opposite side, perfectly either proving Portia's qualifies Shylock praises or showing compassion, empathy, and humanity as apposed to Shylock's malice. Such comparison and contrast further reinforce the discrimination set against Jewish people by Christians.