The Merchant of Venice | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Act 3, Scene 1

Professor Regina Buccola of Roosevelt University provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Act 3, Scene 1 of William Shakespeare's play The Merchant of Venice.

The Merchant of Venice | Act 3, Scene 1 | Summary



Salarino and Solanio reflect on the news that another of Antonio's ships has been reported lost in "the Goodwins." They hope the news is only hearsay but call their source "an honest woman of her word." Just as they are hoping this will be the end of bad news for Antonio, Shylock approaches them. The three men discuss Jessica's departure as well as Antonio's lost ship and what it means for his bond. Salarino and Solanio ask Shylock what he wants with a pound of Antonio's flesh, and Shylock tells them it doesn't matter what he does with the flesh: he just wants revenge. Even though he's Jewish, he says, he has the same feelings and the same weaknesses and desires that any Christian has. He concludes by saying a Christian would seek revenge on a Jew if wronged, so he is also entitled to revenge. Salarino and Solanio do not have an opportunity to respond because they are summoned to Antonio's for dinner.

Shylock talks to his friend and fellow moneylender Tubal, who brings news from Genoa about Jessica. No one has been able to find her, but Tubal shares stories he has heard about her. Shylock laments the loss of his daughter, the money she took, and the money he is spending on the fruitless search for her. He wishes Jessica were "dead at [his] foot and the jewels in her ear! Would she were hearsed at my foot and the ducats in her coffin!" Tubal offers news that a third ship of Antonio's has been lost near Tripoli. The conversation shifts back and forth between Jessica and Antonio. Shylock is upset to hear Jessica traded his turquoise ring for a monkey—a ring her mother had once given Shylock. But he's happy to hear more about Antonio's losses and asks Tubal to "fee [him] an officer" to arrest Antonio before meeting him at the synagogue.


Salarino and Solanio continue to participate in gossip about Antonio's fortunes, although they do not consider themselves gossips; this is a title they only reserve for the source they consider trustworthy. The ship she has told him about is allegedly lost in an area called the Goodwins, which is likely a reference to the Goodwin sands, an area of the English Channel known for treacherous currents. Their conversation with Shylock establishes a connection between Shylock's anger at losing his daughter and his anger at Antonio. Even though Antonio did not take Jessica—and there is no evidence he is involved with her elopement with Lorenzo in any way—Shylock knows Antonio and Lorenzo are associated with one another, at the very least through their mutual friendship with Bassanio. Furthermore, they are both Christians, and this is sufficient reason for Shylock to associate the two in his mind and add Jessica's disappearance to his other grievances against Antonio. In a sense Shylock expects Antonio to suffer for all his kind, just as he believes Antonio has made him suffer because of his "nation."

The connection between Antonio and Jessica in Shylock's mind becomes more apparent during Shylock's conversation with Tubal, which literally shifts focus between Antonio and Jessica from one line to the next. The juxtaposition of Shylock's disappointment at being unable to find Jessica with his eagerness to punish Antonio creates a visual clue to the indirect connection between these two topics in Shylock's mind. He sees Antonio's misfortune as a consolation for his disappointment about Jessica. Shylock is therefore able to channel his rage about Jessica into his rage at Antonio; he can't punish his daughter for her disobedience, but he can punish Antonio. His glee at the prospect makes Shylock appear sinister and undoes much of the goodwill he earns through his speech to Salarino and Solanio in which he enumerates all the ways in which he is just like them.

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