In the Name of God
A Deconstructive Reading of Act
III of Shakespeare’s The Merchant
of Venice
Anas Mahmoudi
Mehdi Ghazi
Fall of 2013
A Summary of Act III
Scene I: Salanio and Salarino are concerned by the news
that Antonio has lost a ship. They question Shylock’s
revenge-based attitude toward Antonio.
Scene II: Bassanio chooses the correct box and wins the
hand of Portia. Salarino brings a letter, bearing the news
that Antonio is bankrupt and is on the verge of paying his
Scene III: Shylock is adamant to carry out the punishment
on Antonio.
Scene IV: Portia asks Lorenzo and Jessica to manage her
property in the absence of Bassanio and herself. Portia and
Nerissa decide to disguise as men and appear as lawyers in
Antonio’s case.
Scene V: Lancelot teases Jessica by saying that she cannot
find salvation due to the fact that she is Shylock’s
daughter. Lorenzo and Jessica joke with one another.
Binary Opposition
It seems that the sense of the inevitability of making extreme
contrasts has been a ghost that has haunted man from the
days of Plato. From such a point of view, Derrida believes,
one cannot make the proper judgment. He becomes a
mere puppet in the hands of the inherited dualities, which
spur him not to pair things up as supplementary forces.
Derrida is of the opinion that the more we credit this
superior/inferior system of thought, the more we
unnecessarily narrow down our interpretations.
In Scene I, Act III we come across this binary judgment.
Salarino draws a line between Shylock and Jessica,
pointing out how Jessica is far superior to her father:
“There is more difference between thy flesh and hers than
between jet and ivory, more between your bloods than
there is between red wine and rhenish” (1995: p. 35).
Salarino is so logocentric in his appreciation of things that
he makes an idol out of Jessica, while he lashes out at
Derrida believes aporia is “an undecidable question” (1993: p.
7). It refers to one’s seemingly irrefutable conviction that
no further excuses are accepted for postponing an
impasse. In such a situation, he arrives at the conclusion
that he cannot delay in carrying out his design, which in
the long run turns out to be against commonsense.
Shylock’s resolution in getting even with Antonio leads to
such an extreme that the only imaginable choice for him is
SALARINO: Why, I am sure, if he forfeit, thou wilt not take
his flesh: What’s that good for?
SHYLOCK:To bait fish withal. If it will feed nothing else, it
will feed my revenge. He hath disgraced me and hindered
me half a million, laughed at my losses, mocked at my
gains, scorned my nation, thwarted my bargains, cooled
my friends, heated mine enemies—and what’s his reason?
I am a Jew…If a Jew wrong a Christian, what is his
humility? Revenge. If a Christian wrong a Jew,
what should his sufferance be by Christian
example? Why, revenge. The villainy you teach me
I will execute—and it shall go hard but I will better
the instruction (1995: p. 35).
Having to deal with such an unconquerable
avalanche, Shylock is stuck in an aporetic
situation. He does not differ his decision for a
possible reconciliation with other alternatives.
Not to be dominated by single vision of reality, the individual provides
himself with the opportunity to ascertain what move to take in the
future. In this way, present with its limited point of view does not
constrain one from holding off one’s judgments. To differ one’s
judgments, Derrida holds, will only serve to assist one in making the
proper decision in the proper moment.
Bassanio is not certain whether he has won the hand of Portia or not;
thus, he intends to make sure what the reality is by postponing his
Fair lady, by your leave,
I come by note to give and to receive.
Like one of two contending in a prize
That thinks he hath done well in people’s eyes,
Hearing applause and universal shout,
Giddy in spirit, still gazing in a doubt
Whether these pearls of praise be his or no—
So, thrice fair lady, stand I even so,
As doubtful whether what I see be true
Until confirmed, signed, ratified by you (1995: p. 40).
The above citation shows that Bassanio does
not want to make a hasty decision, and, by
delaying his perception of reality, he does
not allow his aspiration to deter him from
confiding with his commonsense.
By resolving to make a leap forward, an individual allows his optimism to
come to the fore. At a time when things do not seem to work out, a
thought, a wish equips one with a weapon to stand against the present
with the hope that future would inevitably send forth the long-sought
In Scene II Portia shows a strong sense of optimism; she anticipates that
by marrying Bassanio, she will have the opportunity to get educated by
The full sum of me
Is sum of something which, to term in gross,
Is an unlessoned girl, unschooled, unpracticèd;
Happy in this—she is not yet so old
But she may learn. Happier than this—
She is not bred so dull but she can learn (1995: p. 40).
It seems inevitable to feel a devotion to a particular person,
thing in life’s dealings. Such devotion is sometimes so
strong that one does not think of alternatives, blocking the
path of progress. Sometimes this affection is helpful in the
sense that it ushers one in life by giving him the cause of
stability in his attachment to that specific thing.
To claim that Bassanio’s attachment to Portia’s ring is the
helpful guide may not be amiss. In creating the
atmosphere of sincerity, both Bassanio and Portia bestow
meaning upon one another’s life. The following quotation
reveals how steadfast Bassanio is in his attachment to the
ring Portia has given to him:
But when this ring
Parts from this finger, then parts life from hence.
O, then be bold to say Bassanio’s dead (1995: p. 41)!
The End►
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