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Merchant of Venice, H4v

Editorial note

This edited passage of The Merchant of Venice presents a thematic approach to analyzing the breadth of Shylock's religious subversion within his short presence on the page (H4v). I decided to transcribe the passage according to original spelling, but altered special characters (such as the long s) that did not carry significance for my particular approach. However, I did attempt to imitate the spatial dynamics of the original page, such as indents, enjambment, and italics—lines, and especially which words share the same lines, were important to my analysis. I chose to focus on coding Shylock's brief dialogue because he is able to communicate so much resistance within such a limited amount of space, and it would be a disservice to grant it any less attention. Specifically, Shylock is able to create tension between Christian and Jewish logics through his manipulation of grammar/verb tense (in green), spiritual roles of authority (in orange), religious numerology (in red), and spatial contrast (in blue). Through these methods, Shylock undermines the authority of Christianity at large (particularly through the symbolic vehicle of baptism), and complicates his supposed performance of conversion forced by Antonio and others. This reading is especially critical considering the context within which these lines appear, a moment in the play where Christianity and those who champion it have presumably "won" over Shylock, and by extension, Judaism.

Works Cited:

Britton, Dennis Austin. "Flesh and Blood: Race and Religion in The Merchant of Venice." The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare and Race (2021): 108-22.

"Reference Guide to Biblical Numerology."

"Significant Numbers in Judaism."


                         The comciall Historie of
   Por. Art thou contented Iew? what dost thou say?
   Shy. I am content.
   Por. Clarke, draw a deede of gift.
   Shy. I pray you giue me leaue to goe from hence,
I am not well, send the deede after me,
and I will signe it.
   Duke. Get thee gone, but doe it.
   Shy. In christning shalt thou haue1 two2 Godfathers3,
had I beene iudge4 thou shouldst haue had5 ten more6,
to bring thee to the gallowes, not to the font7.        Exit8
   Duke. Sir I entreate you home with me to dinner.
   Por. I humbly doe desire your Grace of pardon,
I must away this night toward Padua,
and it is meete I presently set forth.
   Duke. I am sorry that your leysure serues you not.
   Anthonio, gratifie this gentleman,
   for in my mind you are much bound to him.
                                                 Exit Duke and his traine.
   Bass. Most worthy gentleman, I and my friend
haue by your wisedome been this day aquitted
of greeuous penalties, in lewe whereof,
three thousand ducats due vnto the Iew
wee freely cope your curtious paines withall.
    An. And stand indebted ouer and aboue
in loue and seruice to you euer-more.
   Por. Hee is well payd that is well satisfied,
and I deliuering you, am satisfied,
and therein doe account my selfe well payd,
my minde was neuer yet more mercinarie.
I pray you know me when we meete againe,
I wish you well, and so I take my leaue.
   Bass. Deere sir, of force I must attempt you further,
take some remembrance of vs as a tribute,
not as fee: graunt me two things I pray you,
not to deny me, and to pardon me.
   Por. You presse me farre, and therefore I wil yeeld,
giue mee your gloues, Ile weare them for your sake,

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, H4v. London: 1600. Cacodemon Digital Shakespeare. Edited by Emily Sullivan. Source edition: Rare Books & Manuscripts Department, Boston Public Library (copy G.176.16).


  1. It is important that Shylock uses the future tense here ("shalt thou haue") when referring to Antonio's baptism, as being a grown man in Early Modern Protestant England, he presumably would have already been baptized at this point. Thus, Shylock's manipulation of grammar here questions the validity of Antonio's baptism.
  2. Shylock alters the number of Godparents typical to Early Modern baptism here from 3 Godparents to 2 Godfathers. This change is significant considering the importance of numerology both in Christianity and Judaism. In Christianity, 3 is considered a perfect number, exemplified best by the Holy Trinity (Father, Son, Holy Spirit—which also happens to be the triad invoked during the act of baptism). In Judaism, 2 is significant by the reappearance of pairs throughout the Torah and Jewish rituals: 2 animals of each kind in Noah's ark, 2 tablets containing the 10 commandments, 2 candles lit at the start of Shabbat, etc. This "2" subjects the validity of Antonio's baptism to question through the literal numerical decrease in Godparents, while swapping the recognizably Christian 3 (especially significant considering the "third" digit that separates Christianity and Judaism is the Christ) for the Jewish 2. In addition to undercutting the viability of Antonio's baptism (via its adherence to the technical requirements of the sacrament), Shylock also appropriates Christianity numerical symbolism to his own purpose. The most dominant significance of 2 within Christianity is its symbolism of the duality of man—that is, Antonio's duality of appearing honorable but being vile, and Shylock's duality of appearing to surrender to Christianity, but subsisting in his Jewish identity.
  3. In this period, children were afforded three Godparents at baptism, two of the baby's sex, and one of the opposite sex. The role of Godparents were weighty with religious authority, and their primary goal was to ensure the fulfillment of the promise made at baptism. That is, that the child will grow up in Christian faith and become a full member of the Church. In Antonio's case, then, he would have had two Godfathers and one Godmother. A superficial reading might code Shylock's exclusion of the "Godmother" in Antonio's case as a simple refusal to recognize the integral role of maternal rearing. However, I think it is much more likely that Shylock's omit of the Godmother serves two purposes: first, to continue to invalidate Antonio's baptism by stripping it of its adherence to the technical requirements (that is, it mandates three Godparents, and Antonio is only characterized by Shylock as having two); second, it undermines the Christian-specific reverence of the holiest "Godmother," Mary the Mother of God. Though Catholics are the most known for their devotion to Mary, early modern Protestantism (in contrast to modern Protestantism) still maintained a great deal of reverence for Mary on the whole.
  4. It is significant that, given the implications of Shylock's edit of "Godparents" to "Godfathers" described in the previous note, he also positions "iudge" or "judge" as its opposing role. The tension between the titles of Godfather and Iudge/Judge mimics the change that occurs in the characterization of God between the Old Testament/Torah (that which Judaism and Christianity recognizes) to the New Testament (that which Christianity recognizes, and Judaism does not). In the Old Testament/Torah, God occupied a more authoritative role as the Great Judge; for example, His issuing of the 10 commandments, the significance of which is explicated further in note 6 (among other events, like the wiping out of Sodom and Gomorrah, the wiping out of almost the whole word during the Great Flood, etc., all due to sin). The New Testament ushered in, with the Gospels, a different image of God as a caring and loving Father, willing to die for the sake of His children's eternal salvation. Shylock, then, is reversing this change, pulling the attention back to the religious authority of "Iudge/Judge" rather than that of "parent/father".
  5. Here, Shylock switches to the past tense, "shouldst haue had." With this grammatical change, Shylock fosters a tension of logics in partnership with the previous line (note 1) in which he uses future tense. How could Antonio still be anticipating baptism, and have had a baptism performed that Shylock is now referencing? Thus, confusion permeates the presence of baptism in these lines, particularly in connection to Antonio, which is exceedingly significant considering the role of baptism as 1). A Christian's first official entry to the Church, 2). Cleansing the stain of original sin.
  6. In contrast to the numerical decrease that Shylock performs in the previous line from 3 to 2, here he offers a new number to consider: 10. In Christianity, the number 10 is equally viewed as perfect (like 3), and appears thousands of times throughout the Old and New Testaments in significant and symbolic ways, making it a weighty number for the average Christian, but less decisive in a single meaning. In contrast, in Judaism, there are much less occurrences of 10, and the most prominent usage is God's 10 commandments delivered to Moses, or the 10 guidelines that would enable his people to live honorable and faithfully prosperous lives. Therefore, the number 10 symbolically occupies a large and looming Christian space—importantly connected to the transference of Antonio from the font to the gallows, that is, "more" Christianity equals death—but invokes more decisively the Jewish moral measuring stick (the 10 commandments), which according to Shylock, Antonio fails on all counts.
  7. The pairing of "gallowes" and "font" (and subsequently "christning" as the act performed at the font) as spatially connected opposites is another example of Shylock's linguistic ability to undermine his forced performance of conversion to Christianity, and it is absolutely bursting with religiously symbolic tensions. First, the gallowes are positioned as the anti-font, where the gallowes signify literal death, and the font (according to Christian baptism) signifies spiritual (re)birth. It is important to consider Shylock's specific choice of gallowes as his wished-for death penalty for the baby-Antonio, as the kind of death incurred by the gallowes rarely elicits external blood loss, which is crucially related to the pivotal loophole that undercut his deal with Antonio previously (that no Venetian blood be spilled). The gallowes, therefore, also function as a sort of anti-Cross. Whereas Christ shed his blood by hanging on the cross (the cornerstone event whereby baptism is afforded the spiritual power to literally wash away sins), Antonio is also positioned to hang, but without shedding any blood; whereas Christ was hanged to save His people from punishment, Antonio is hanged as a form of punishment. Thus, the linguistic function of the gallowes as representing both anti-font and anti-cross (and its attachment to Antonio) continues to subvert the validity of Antonio's baptism (and thus, his validity as a Christian), in addition to the Christian conception of baptism at large. Shylock's precision in targeting baptism is likewise notable considering its religious context as a linked difference between Christianity and Judaism. Christians used to practice circumcision as the ritual rite of passage for babies, but after Christ, replaced it with baptism; Judaism however, maintains the practice of circumcision. Therefore, in addition to the tension of religious logics enacted between Shylock and Antonio in these lines, there also exists the greater tension between Christianity and Judaism as religious wholes.
  8. The stage direction "exit" appears within the same line as Shylock's final words, shortening the pause between his speech and his leaving. This quickness is important in contrast to only a few lines down, where the similar "Exit" stage direction for the Duke and "his traine" occupy a new line, and are not in italics. The special attention Shylock's exit receives, and its proximity to the end of his lines, emphasizes both his agency in leaving and his prevention of others' ability to reply to him.