The Merchant of Venice: midpoint

Using Professor Rodes’ midpoint theory midpoint theory midpoint theory, let’s take a look at The Merchant of Venice.

There are 2579 lines in the play, so the midpoint takes place at line 1290, which occurs in Act Three, Scene One.  In this scene, Shylock the Jew has just lost his daughter Jessica and is being taunted by our “reporters” Salarino and Solanio. Finally, Shylock can take no more and he rants against the Venetians and their cruelty against the Jews and declares his desire for revenge, at which point his fellow Jew Tubal arrives to give him information about both his daughter’s disappearance and the fate of Antonio’s ships.

It’s interesting that the word “revenge” is used five times in the entire play and every occurrence takes place within twenty lines of the midpoint.

When Salarino asks Shylock why he would take Antonio’s flesh, the Jew responds,

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. Hath not a Jew eyes? hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison us, do we not die? and if you wrong us, shall we not revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that. 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.

— III.i.49-67

Then when he speaks to Tubal, he tells his friend that he has been left with “no satisfaction, no revenge, nor no in luck stirring but what lights on my shoulders, no sighs but of my breathing, no tears but of my shedding” (III.i.86-89).

It is obvious that Shylock desires revenge, revenge for the indignities he’s suffered, for the losses he’s endured. He just needs the opportunity.

Shylock learns of just such an opportunity in line 90, the exact midpoint of the play, when Tubal tells Shylock, “Yes, other men have ill luck too: Antonio, as I heard in Genoa,–” (III.i.90-91). This gives Shylock the chance to “plague (and) … torture” (III.i.107) Antonio.

Not that there was any doubt, but mercy is gone from the play (from Shylock, from the Venetians), and from here on out, it is all about revenge, for Shylock against Antonio, for the Venetians against the Jew, for Portia and Nerissa against their husbands.

A rather “problem”-atic ending for a comedy…