Antonio had gained permission to leave the prison to visit Shylock. He wanted the chance to try and reason with him. The Duke had had to grant Shylock’s suit and he was going to hear the case unless the two parties could come to an agreement. A gaoler guarded Antonio and the merchant’s friend, Solanio, accompanied them.
Shylock came out into the street to meet them and, in his anger, refused even to hear what Antonio had come to say. He addressed the gaoler instead. ‘Gaoler, guard him well!’ he shouted. When Solanio opened his mouth to speak he gestured violently. ‘Don’t talk to me about mercy,’ he yelled. ‘This is the fool who lent out money for free. Gaoler, guard him closely.’
‘Just listen to me for a moment, good Shylock,’ pleaded Antonio.
‘I’ll have my bond!’ said Shylock angrily. ‘Don’t try arguing against my bond! I’ve sworn an oath that I’ll have my bond! You called me “dog” without any reason, but since I’m a dog, watch out for my teeth! The duke will give me justice. I’m surprised, you worthless gaoler, that you’re so foolish as to gallivant about with him at his request!’
‘Please!’ exclaimed Antonio. ‘Listen to me!’
Shylock’s face was red. He went up to Antonio and shouted right into his face. ‘I’ll have my bond! I won’t listen to you! I’ll have my bond so don’t waste your breath! I won’t be made a soft and stupid fool of – shaking my head, changing my mind, sighing and giving in to Christian pleas.’ He turned and went to his door. Antonio took a few steps and he whipped round. ‘Don’t follow me! Don’t talk to me! I’ll have my bond!’ He went inside and slammed the door.
Solanio shook his fist at the closed door. ‘He’s the most intransigent mongrel that ever kept company with human beings!’
‘Leave him alone,’ said Antonio. ‘I won’t pester him anymore with useless pleas. He wants my life and I know why: I’ve frequently helped people who have come to me because they’ve been caught up in his web. That’s why he hates me.’
‘I’m sure the duke will never allow this penalty.’
Antonio shook his head sadly. ‘The duke can’t interfere with the course of the law because if we denied foreigners their rights here in Venice it would undermine all our notions of justice and we can’t do that because the success of our trade and commerce depends on our relationship with all the nations. So, go. These worries and losses have caused me to lose so much weight that I’ll hardly have a pound of flesh to spare for my vicious creditor tomorrow. Come on then, gaoler, let’s go. I pray only that Bassanio will come and watch me pay his debt. Apart from that I don’t care!’