Antonio, Bassanio, Gratiano, the court officials and the merchants who had come to observe the trial, all went silent as the Duke entered the courtroom. He sat down behind his raised bench. ‘Well? Antonio’s here, is he?’ he said.
‘Ready, at your pleasure, Your Grace,’ said Antonio, who stood between two guards.
The duke shook his head. ‘I’m sorry for you,’ he said. ‘You have come to answer a stony adversary, an inhuman wretch, incapable of pity and devoid of even a drop of mercy.’
‘I’ve been told Your Grace has taken great pains to dissuade him from his course,’ said Antonio. But as he’s determined, and as the law can’t help me avoid his revenge, I’ll encounter his anger with patience. I’ve resigned myself to submission to his merciless rage.’
‘Go, one of you, and call the Jew into the court,’ said the duke.
‘He’s waiting at the door,’ said Solanio. ‘Here he comes, my lord.’
‘Make way for him and let him stand before me.’
The court was crowded and they moved to make way for Shylock, who strode in and bowed curtly to the duke.
‘Shylock,’ began the duke, addressing him gently. ‘Everyone thinks – and I think so too – that you intend to keep up this act until the last minute, and then, it’s thought, you’ll show your mercy and remorse even more strikingly than you’ve shown your strange apparent cruelty. And whereas you’re now demanding the penalty – a pound of this poor merchant’s flesh – you’ll not only waive that penalty but, touched with human gentleness and love, waive some of the debt as well, as you cast an eye of pity over the losses that have so burdened him – enough to disable even a royal merchant and touch the brassy and stony hearts of merciless Turks and Tartars who are unaccustomed to showing sympathy.’
Shylock was silent. He stared defiantly at the duke.
‘We all expect a gentle answer, Jew.’ The duke gestured to him to speak.
Shylock cleared his throat. ‘I’ve told Your Grace what my intentions are. I’ve sworn by our holy Sabbath to get the full penalty for failure to pay the bond. If you deny it you will be undermining your city’s constitution and the rule of law.’ He looked around the court at the hostile faces. ‘You’ll ask me why I’d rather have a measure of dead flesh than receive three thousand ducats. Well I won’t answer that! Just say I feel like it. Is that good enough? What if my house were plagued by a rat and it suited me to pay ten thousand ducats to have it poisoned? Well, have you got your answer? There are some men who don’t like the sight of a gaping pig’s head: some who go mad if they see a cat: and others who can’t help wetting themselves when they hear the nasal whine of the bagpipes. That’s because our likes and dislikes govern our emotions. Now: your answer. Because no good explanation can be given as to why one man can’t stand a gaping pig’s head, why another man a harmless, useful cat: why yet another can’t hear a woollen bagpipe without bringing inevitable shame on himself and committing an offence because he has been offended, I can’t give an answer either. Nor do I want to, apart from a solid hatred and a loathing that I have for Antonio. That makes me pursue this money-losing case against him! Have you got your answer?’
Bassanio, incensed, was unable to stop himself from shouting out. ‘This is no excuse for your cruelty, you callous man!’
‘I don’t have to please you with my answers!’ snapped Shylock.
‘Do all men kill the things they dislike?’ said Bassanio.
‘Wouldn’t every man just love to kill the things he doesn’t like?’ said Shylock.
‘Not every offence causes hatred in the first instance,’ retorted Bassanio.
‘What?’ said Shylock, ‘Would you allow a serpent to sting you twice?’
Antonio put his hand on his friend’s arm. ‘Please,’ he said. ‘Don’t forget, you’re arguing with the Jew. You may as well stand on the beach and tell the sea not to reach its usual high point. You may as well ask the wolf why he has made the ewe bleat in bereavement of its lamb. You may as well forbid the mountain pines to sway or make a noise in the buffeting winds. You may as well do any hard thing rather than try and soften the hardest – his Jewish heart. So I beg you not to try anything else or use any further means, but let me have the judgment and the Jew his will as soon as possible.’
Bassanio ignored his friend’s pleas. Instead, he snapped his fingers and Gratiano handed him a leather bag. Bassanio went slowly across the tense courtroom till he faced Shylock. He held the bag out to him. ‘For your three thousand ducats here are six.’
Shylock snarled. ‘If every ducat in that six thousand were multiplied by six I would not take the money. I want my bond!’
The duke sighed. He shook his head sadly. ‘How can you hope for mercy, not giving any yourself?’
‘What judgment should I fear, not having done anything wrong?’ Shylock turned and faced the assembled onlookers. ‘Between you you have many a slave which, like your donkeys, your dogs and your mules, you use for abject and servile jobs, because you’ve bought them. If I were to say: “Free them – marry them to your children, why make them sweat under heavy burdens? Give them beds as soft as yours and good food like your own,” you would answer: “The slaves are ours.” And that’s how I’m answering you. The pound of flesh that I demand of him was expensive. It’s mine and I’m going to have it! If you deny me then shame on your law! It will mean that the laws of Venice have no force.’ He turned back to the duke. ‘I stand for justice. Answer! Will I have it?’
There was uproar as the merchants noisily urged the duke to dismiss Shylock’s suit. The duke held up his hand for silence.
‘According to the power invested in me by the state I’m able to dismiss the court,’ he said. ‘But I have sent for Doctor Bellario, a learned lawyer, to resolve this case. He’s due here today.’
Solanio called from the door: ‘My lord, there’s a messenger waiting outside, just arrived from Padua with letters from the doctor.’
‘Bring me the letters,’ said the duke. ‘Call the messenger in.’
Bassanio gripped his friend’s shoulder. ‘Don’t worry, Antonio,’ he said. ‘Come on man, be brave. The Jew will have my flesh, blood, bones and all before you’ll lose one drop of blood for me.’
Shylock watched the two friends through narrowed eyes. He touched the handle of the sheathed knife that hung from his waist.
‘I am the runt of the flock and the most vulnerable,’ said Antonio. ‘The weakest fruit drops earliest to the ground, and so will I. The best thing you can do, Bassanio, is stay alive and write my epitaph.’
Solanio escorted the messenger to the bench. He was a boy. He was, in fact, Nerissa, dressed as a boy.
The duke nodded. ‘Have you come from Padua, from Bellario?’
Nerissa bowed. ‘From both, my lord. Bellario sends his compliments to Your Grace.’ She handed him a letter.
Shylock had taken his knife out and was honing it on the sole of his boot.
‘Why are you sharpening your knife so earnestly?’ said Bassanio.
Shylock indicated Antonio with a slight nod. ‘To cut the forfeiture from that bankrupt there,’ he said softly.
‘It’s not on your sole but on your soul that you’re sharpening your knife, cruel Jew!’ exclaimed Gratiano. ‘But no metal – not even the hangman’s axe – is half as sharp as your envy. Can no prayers move you?’
‘None that you’re intelligent enough to make,’ retorted Shylock.
‘Oh, rot in hell, you heartless dog!’ Gratiano itched to strike him. ‘Justice is the culprit for allowing you to live! You almost make me waver in my faith and I’m beginning to agree with Pythagoras that the souls of animals enter the bodies of men Your currish spirit is that of a wolf whose soul fled into your evil mother when he was hanged for murder, and possessed you in her womb, because your motives are wolfish, bloody, mean and ravenous!’
Shylock laughed. ‘Until the time comes that you can shout the seal from off my bond you’re only hurting your lungs with that noise. Do something about your brains, young man, or they’ll fall apart in ruins. I’m standing firm on the law.’
The duke had finished reading the letter and now he addressed the young messenger: ‘This letter from Bellario recommends a young and learned lawyer to our court. Where is he?’
‘He’s waiting nearby, to know your answer,’ said Nerissa. ‘To hear whether you’ll admit him or not.’
‘With all my heart,’ said the duke. ‘Three or four of you officials go and escort him here with all due courtesy. In the meantime the court shall hear Bellario’s letter.’
He began reading: “Your Grace should know that at the time of receiving your letter I was very sick, but it so happened that when your messenger arrived a young lawyer from Rome was visiting me. His name is Balthazar. I told him about the dispute between the Jew and the merchant, Antonio. We consulted several books together. He knows my opinion, improved by his own learning – which I cannot praise enough – and he brings that with him as he takes my place at my request. I beg you not to judge him inadequate on account of his youth because I never knew such an old head on so young a body. I hope you will accept him. His performance will commend him more than my words can.”
The duke put the letter down and looked round at the assembly. ‘You hear what the learned Bellario writes. And here, I take it, is the doctor himself.’ He got up and shook Portia’s hand. ‘You’ve come from old Bellario?’
Portia was dressed in academic robes and a large doctoral hat. She looked absurdly young but they had all heard Bellario’s letter.
‘I have, my lord,’ she said.
‘You are welcome. Take your place.’ The duke indicated the seat beside him behind the bench and she sat down. ‘Are you acquainted with the dispute that occupies this court today?’
‘I’m fully briefed on the case,’ she said. ‘Which is the merchant, and which the Jew?’
‘Antonio and old Shylock, both come forward,’ said the duke.
Portia looked at Shylock. ‘Is your name Shylock?’
‘Shylock is my name,’ he said.
‘Your suit is an unusual one,’ she told him. ‘But it stands up legally and Venetian law can’t challenge its validity.’ She turned to Antonio. ‘You’re in some danger from this suit of his, aren’t you?’
‘Yes, that’s what he claims,’ said Antonio.
‘Do you admit to this debt?’
Portia nodded. She looked at Shylock again. ‘Then the Jew will have to be merciful.’
‘On whose authority must I?’ said Shylock. ‘Tell me that!’
Portia looked at him for a long time before speaking.
‘The quality of mercy is not strained,’ she said. ‘It drops on to the world as the gentle rain does – from heaven. It’s doubly blessed. It blesses both the giver and the receiver. It’s most powerful when granted by those who hold power over others. It’s more important to a monarch than his crown. His sceptre shows the level of his temporal power – the symbol of awe and majesty in which lies the source of the dread and fear that kings command. But mercy is above that sceptered power. It’s enthroned in the hearts of kings. It is an attribute of God himself. And earthly power most closely resembles God’s power when justice is guided by mercy. Therefore Jew, although justice is your aim, think about this: none of us would be saved if we depended on justice alone. We pray for mercy and, in seeking it ourselves, we learn to be merciful. I’ve spoken about this to soften the justice of your plea. If you insist on pure justice, however, then this serious Venetian court has no alternative other than to pronounce sentence against the merchant there.’
‘I’ll take the responsibility for my deeds!’ Shylock snapped. ‘I’m insisting on the law! That’s the penalty and forfeit of my bond!’
‘Is he unable to pay you the money?’
Bassanio held up the bag of money. ‘Yes, he can pay. I’m offering it to him here in the court. Indeed, twice the sum. If that’s not enough I’m willing to be bound over to pay it ten times over, on forfeit of my hands, my head, my heart. If that’s not enough then it’s not the money that’s at issue – it’s pure malice that’s hiding the truth. I beg of you, use your authority to bend the law. Do a small wrong to bring about a great right and prevent this cruel devil from having his way.’
‘It can’t be done,’ said Portia. ‘There’s no power in Venice that can circumvent an established law. It would create a precedent and encourage many other irregularities in the court. It’s impossible.’
Shylock threw his hands up and laughed with joy. ‘A Daniel come to deliver justice,’ he cried. ‘Yes, a Daniel! Oh wise young judge, how I honour you!’
‘Please,’ she said. ‘’Let me see the bond.’
Shylock swiftly drew the scroll out of his pocket.’ Here it is, most reverend doctor. Here it is!’
She didn’t unroll it. ‘Shylock,’ she said. ‘There’s three times the money offered.’
‘My oath!’ he cried. ‘My oath! I have sworn an oath before heaven. Do you want me to burden my soul with perjury? No, not for the whole of Venice!’
Portia opened the document and read it carefully. The court was hushed. Then: ‘This bond is valid,’ she said. ‘Accordingly, the Jew may lawfully claim a pound of flesh, to be cut, by him, nearest the merchant’s heart.’ She rolled the document up amidst the shocked muttering of the merchants. ‘Be merciful,’ she said. ‘Take three times the money. Tell me to tear the bond up.’
‘When it’s paid, according to its terms!’ Shylock spoke with the confidence of a man who has right on his side. ‘You appear to be a good judge. You know the law: your interpretation has been very sound. In the name of the law, of which you are a well-deserving pillar, I ask you to proceed to judgment. I swear by my soul, no man has the power of speech enough to make me change my mind. I stand by the legality of my bond!’
‘I heartily wish the court to give its judgment,’ said Antonio wearily.
‘Well then, this is it,’ said Portia. ‘You must prepare your breast for his knife.’
‘Oh noble judge!’ exclaimed Shylock. ‘Oh excellent young man!’
‘The intention and purpose of the law is to honour the penalty, which according to this bond, seems due,’ she said.
‘That’s very true!’ Shylock hopped about excitedly. ‘Oh wise and upright judge! How much older you are than you look!’
‘Therefore,’ she said, looking at Antonio. ‘Uncover your breast.’
‘Yes, his breast!’ Shylock pulled his knife out of its sheath. ‘That’s what the bond says, doesn’t it, noble judge? “Nearest his heart.” Those are the very words.’
‘That’s so,’ said Portia. ‘Are there scales here to weight the flesh?’
‘I have them here.’ Shylock bent down and took a balance out of his bag.
Portia nodded. ‘Have a doctor standing by, Shylock’ she said. ‘At your expense, to stop his wounds in case he bleeds to death.’
Shylock strode to the bench and swept the document up. ‘Does it say that in the bond?’
‘It’s not detailed, but what of that?’ she said. ‘You’d naturally do that out of charity.’
Shylock’s nose was right up against the document as he perused it. ‘I can’t find it: it’s not in the bond!’ he exclaimed.
‘You, merchant,’ she said. ‘Have you anything to say?’
‘Very little,’ said Antonio. ‘I’m fortified and mentally prepared. Give me your hand, Bassanio. Farewell! Don’t grieve that I’ve fallen to this state for your sake. In this, I’m more fortunate than most men. Fortune usually lets the wretched man outlive his wealth to endure years of poverty with hollow eyes and wrinkled brow. I’ve been spared that lingering misery.’
The two men embraced. ‘Remember me to your dear wife. Tell her the story of Antonio’s death: tell her how much I loved you – speak well of me, and when the tale has been told ask her to judge whether Bassanio was once dearly loved. Regret only that you will lose your friend, while he doesn’t regret that he paid your debt. If the Jew cuts deeply enough I’ll pay it immediately, with all my heart.’
Bassanio looked into his friend’s eyes. ‘Antonio, I’m married to a woman who is as dear to me as life itself, but I don’t value life, my wife, and all the world more than I do your life. I would give them all, yes, sacrifice them all, right here and now, to this devil, to save you.’
He was about to say more but Portia interrupted him. ‘Your wife wouldn’t thank you much for that, were she here to hear you make that offer,’ she said.
Gratiano, not very happy with the young judge’s decision, supported his friend. ‘I have a wife whom I swear I love,’ he said. ‘I wish she were in heaven so she could plead with some higher power to change this currish Jew’s mind!’
‘It’s a good thing you’re offering that behind her back!’ retorted Nerissa. ‘Otherwise you’d have an unsettled household.’
Shylock was impatient with all this. He felt contempt for the attitude of Christian husbands. He thought about his daughter. As things were he would rather she had married a descendant of that villain Barabbas than a Christian. ‘We’re wasting time,’ he said. ‘The sentence, please!’
‘A pound of that merchant’s flesh is yours,’ said Portia. ‘The court awards it. The law allows it.’
‘Most rightful judge!’ Shylock was smiling again.
‘And you must cut this flesh from his breast. The law allows it and the court awards it.’
‘Most learned judge!’ Shylock gripped his knife firmly. ‘A sentence!’ He began moving across the court towards Antonio. ‘Come,’ he said. ‘Prepare!’
Antonio took his coat off.
‘One moment,’ said Portia. ‘There is something else. This bond doesn’t allow you a drop of blood. The words expressly are “a pound of flesh.” But if, in cutting it, you shed one drop of Christian blood, under the laws of Venice your lands and goods are subject to confiscation to the state of Venice.’
There were gasps all round. Shylock stopped in his tracks and turned to face the young doctor. Gratiano was the first to speak.
‘Oh upright judge!’ he exclaimed. ‘Did you hear that, Jew? Oh learned judge!’
‘Is that the law?’ said Shylock.
Portia opened one of the books she had brought with her and shoved it across the bench. ‘You can see the act for yourself. As you urged justice so strongly, be assured that you will have more justice than you want.’
Gratiano went right up to Shylock and stood beside him. ‘Oh learned judge,’ he said, imitating Shylock’s voice. ‘Look at that, Jew! A learned judge!’
Shylock looked from Portia to Antonio, whose face now showed the beginning of a smile. Bassanio stood beside his friend. He held out the bag of money.
‘I’ll take this offer then,’ said Shylock. ‘Pay three times the bond and let the Christian go.’
‘Here’s the money,’ said Bassanio.
Portia raised her hand. ‘Not so fast,’ she said. ‘The Jew will have full justice. Wait: not so fast. He will have nothing but the penalty.’
‘Oh Jew!’ Gratiano punched the air with his fist. ‘An upright judge, a worthy judge!’
‘And so,’ continued Portia, ‘prepare to cut off the flesh. Shed no blood, and take care to cut off no more and no less than just a pound of flesh. If you take more or less than just a pound, even if it’s as much as to make it lighter or heavier by the twentieth of a fraction: yes, if the scale turns as much as the weight of a hair, you die and all your property is confiscated.’
Gratiano, hanging on her every word, responded immediately with a whoop of joy. ‘A second Daniel! A Daniel, Jew! Ha, infidel, I’ve got you squirming!’
Shylock had stopped dead, the knife’s point an inch from Antonio’s chest.
‘Why is the Jew hesitating?’ said Portia. ‘Take your forfeit.’
Shylock’s hand dropped to his side. His shoulders slumped. He half turned to Portia. ‘Give me my capital and let me go,’ he mumbled.
‘I have it ready,’ said Bassanio, digging into the bag and pulling a handful of the money out. ‘Here it is.’
Portia held up her hand again and looked sternly at Bassanio. ‘He has refused it in open court. He will have only justice, according to his contract.’
‘I say again, a Daniel!’ yelled Gratanio, ‘a second Daniel! Thank you, Jew, for teaching me that word!’
Shylock turned and faced Portia. ‘Am I not to have at least my capital?’
‘You’ll have nothing but the penalty,’ she said. ‘To be taken at your peril, Jew.’
Shylock looked around desperately. There was no sympathy anywhere. ‘Well then,’ he said, ‘may the devil give him the benefit of it! I won’t stay and argue this any longer.’
He started for the door but Portia stopped him.
‘Wait, Jew,’ she said. ‘The law has another hold over you.’ She opened the law book again, read silently for a moment then nodded. With her finger on the text she said: ‘It is stated in the Venetian law that if it should be proved against an alien that he has, by direct or indirect efforts, sought the life of any citizen, the person against which he has conspired is entitled to seize one half of his goods, the other half going to the state coffers. Furthermore, whether the offender lives or dies becomes the subject of the duke’s sole discretion. I say that you fit into that category. It’s clear that both indirectly and directly, you have plotted against the life of the defendant, and you have therefore incurred the penalty I’ve described. Kneel, therefore, and beg the duke for mercy.’
Gratiano hugged himself with glee. ‘Beg for permission to hang yourself!’ He danced about in front of Shylock. ‘But of course, your property being forfeited to the state, you haven’t got enough money left to buy a rope, so you’ll have to be hanged at the state’s expense!’
The duke gave Gratiano a look that silenced him. Then he looked around to bring the court back to order. ‘To demonstrate the difference in our outlooks, I pardon your life before you ask for it. Regarding half your wealth – it goes to Antonio. The other half goes to the state. Showing remorse could convert this to a fine.’
‘As long as it’s the state’s part, not Antonio’s,’ said Portia.
Shylock’s voice was almost inaudible when he spoke. ‘Just take my life as well,’ he whispered. ‘When you take my house you take the means of maintaining it: you take my life when you take away the means whereby I live.’
‘What mercy can you give him, Antonio?’said Portia.
‘A free noose,’ said Gratiano. ‘Nothing else, for God’s sake!’
‘If it pleases my lord the duke and the court to waive the fine for one half of his wealth I will be content,’ said Antonio, ‘provided that I may have the use of the other half during his lifetime, and that I can then give it, on his death, to the gentleman who recently eloped with his daughter. There are two more conditions: that in return for this favour he will immediately become a Christian: the other, that he make a will, here and now, in the court, leaving everything he owns at the time of his death to his son, Lorenzo, and his daughter.’
‘He will do this,’ said the duke, ‘or I’ll withdraw the pardon that I’ve just pronounced.’
‘Are you satisfied, Jew?’ said Portia. ‘What do you say?’
Shylock didn’t look up. ‘I’m content,’ he muttered.’
Portia looked at Nerissa. ‘Clerk, draw up a will,’ she said.
Shylock sunk to the floor. ‘I beg of you,’ he said, ‘Give me permission to go. I’m not well. Send the will after me and I’ll sign it.’
‘Go then!’ said the duke. ‘But make sure you do it!’
As Shylock rose unsteadily to his feet and began making his way slowly to the door, amid jeers, Gratiano barred his way. ‘When you’re christened you’ll have two godfathers, ‘ he said. ‘If I had been the judge, you would have had ten more – to take you to the gallows, not the font.’
Shylock staggered to the door, the catcalls and jeers ringing in his ears. Then he was gone. The duke rose.
‘Sir,’ he said to Portia, ‘I invite you to my home for dinner.’
Portia’s face expressed regret. ‘I humbly beg Your Grace’s pardon,’ she said. ‘I have to go to Padua tonight and I must leave soon.’
‘I’m sorry that you can’t manage it,’ said the duke. ‘Antonio, reward this gentleman because, in my opinion, you’re seriously indebted to him.’
When the duke and his entourage had left Bassanio smiled at Portia. ‘My dear sir,’ he said, ‘my friend and I have escaped some serious penalties today, as a result of your wisdom. ‘I have the honour of offering you the three thousand ducats that were due to the Jew as payment for the trouble you’ve taken.’
‘And, in love and gratitude, we’ll be indebted to you forever,’ said Antonio.
:Portia laughed as she pushed the money away. ‘Satisfaction is good enough payment,’ she said. ‘In rescuing you, I’ve achieved satisfaction, so I regard myself as having been well paid. I’ve never been interested in money.’ She lifted he books and began walking to the door. Nerissa followed her. ‘Please, remember me when we meet again. Good luck. And so, goodbye.’
Bassanio hurried after them. ‘Dear sir, I really must insist,’ he said. ‘Take a souvenir, as something to remember us by, not as a fee. Grant me two things, I beg of you: not to say no to me, and to pardon my insistence.’
She stopped and turned. ‘You’re very insistent,’ she said, ‘and therefore I will concede. Let me have your gloves. I’ll wear them to remember you by.’ Bassanio hurried to remove his gloves. She took his hand and touched his ring. ‘And as a token of your goodwill I’ll take this ring,’ she said.
Bassanio pulled his hand away.
‘No, don’t pull your hand away,’ she said. ‘I won’t take anything else. Surely you won’t refuse me?’
‘This ring, good sir?’ Bassanio didn’t know what to do. ‘Oh no, it’s worthless. I wouldn’t shame myself by giving it to you.’
Portia swept his objections aside with an impatient gesture. ‘I won’t have anything but this,’ she told him. ‘I’ve taken a liking to it.’
‘This ring has sentimental value for me,’ he said. ‘I’ll advertise for the most expensive ring in Venice and give it to you. But as for this ring, I beg you to pardon me.’
‘I see, sir, that you are very free with your offers,’ she said, preparing to leave again. ‘You were the one who taught me how to beg, and now, it seems, you’re teaching me how a beggar should be treated.’
She turned, but he pulled on her gown. ‘Good sir,’ he said. ‘My wife gave me this ring, and when she put it on my finger she made me promise that I would never sell it or give it away or lose it.’
‘That’s an excuse many men use to avoid giving gifts,’ she said. ‘And unless your wife is mad, knowing how well I deserve this ring, she wouldn’t hold it against you forever that you gave it to me. Well, goodbye, and good luck.’
Antonio couldn’t watch her go like that. ‘Let her have the ring, my Lord Bassanio,’ he said. ‘Balance his worthiness and my love with your wife’s instruction!’
Bassanio pulled the ring off his finger. ‘Run, Gratiano!’ he exclaimed. ‘Catch up with him. Give him the ring, and bring him to Antonio’s house if you can.’
As Gratiano rushed off Bassanio beckoned to his friend. ‘Come,’ he said. ‘We’ll go to your house, and we’ll both set off for Belmont early tomorrow. Come Antonio.’