Shakespeare – Module 5: The Merchant of Venice – 10 of 20 – Act 4

Objective: To understand the events of Act 4.

The rising action of the play arrives in Act 3 with Shylock determined to get revenge and Antonio destined to have to pay his debt and give up a pound of his flesh. Act 4 mainly takes place in the courtroom where Antonio is on trial. This act is made even more confusing due to Portia and Nerissa dressing up as men. Act 4 is the climax of the play and as it very nearly becomes a tragedy.

The Merchant of Venice (Theatre) - TV Tropes

Task 1: Read the summary of Act 4. Then answer the questions which come afterwards.

The court assembles for Antonio’s case. Shylock enters and demands that the debt to him be paid. He likens his right to have Antonio’s flesh as the same as Venetians’ rights to keep slaves and demands to be told whether he is allowed to claim this. Portia enters in disguise as a lawyer called Balthazar. She asks Shylock to be merciful, which he declines to do.

Antonio prepares himself for death and says farewell to Bassanio. Just as it seems that Shylock will triumph, Portia reveals that he is only allowed to take the flesh if he does not shed any blood, as blood was not mentioned in the bond. Shylock is bound by Venetian law to give half of his wealth to Antonio. The other half will be seized by the state. The final condition is that Shylock converts from a Jew to Christian. Shylock agrees and leaves the court.

Bassanio tries to repay “Balthazar” for his help, but Portia asks only for his gloves and his ring (which had been a gift from her). Bassanio tries to resist, but eventually gives in at Antonio’s urging.

Who pretends to be Balthazar?


How is ‘Balthazar’ able to take charge in court?

Because is (meant to be) a lawyer.

How does ‘Balthazar’ prevent Shylock from taking the pound of flesh?

He points out that it is illegal to spill blood in Venice and that blood was not a part of the original contract.

Why does ‘Balthazar’ ask Bassanio to give up his wedding ring as payment?

Because ‘Balthazar’ is really Portia. Portia wants to see how easily Bassanio gives up his wedding ring as she previously told him that their marriage would be over if he lost or gave it up. Portia wants to teach him a lesson.

Task 2: Read Shylock’s speech to the duke. In it, he explains why he doesn’t want to give up his claim to a pound of Antonio’s flesh. Pick out 3 quotations from the speech and explain what they show about Shylock’s thoughts and feelings. e.g. “sways it to the mood of what it likes or loathes” – this shows Shylock doesn’t feel he needs to explain himself and justifies his behaviour by saying he dislikes Antonio and that is enough.

Shakespearean EnglishModern English

What if my house be troubled with a rat
And I be pleased to give ten thousand ducats
To have it baned? What, are you answered yet?
Some men there are love not a gaping pig,
Some that are mad if they behold a cat,
And others, when the bagpipe sings i’ th’ nose,
Cannot contain their urine. For affection,
Mistress of passion, sways it to the mood
Of what it likes or loathes. Now, for your answer:
As there is no firm reason to be rendered
Why he cannot abide a gaping pig;
Why he, a harmless necessary cat;
Why he, a woollen bagpipe, but of force
Must yield to such inevitable shame
As to offend, himself being offended—
So can I give no reason, nor I will not
(More than a lodged hate and a certain loathing
I bear Antonio), that I follow thus
A losing suit against him. Are you answered?
What if I had a rat in my house,
and I felt like paying ten thousand ducats
to have it exterminated? Do you have your
answer yet? Some men don’t like roast pig,
others go crazy if they see a cat,
and others can’t help urinating when they
hear bagpipes. There’s no sense trying to
explain people’s likes and dislikes.
So, to answer your question. Just as
there’s no clear reason why one man
doesn’t want a roast pig, or why another man
can’t stand a harmless and useful cat,
or another can’t tolerate bagpipes,
so I can’t give a reason, and I won’t give a reason 
(other than the simple hate and loathing I feel for Antonio)
why I’m pursuing this unprofitable case against him.
Does that answer your question?

Task 3: Write a short newspaper article about the court case, after it has happened. Include details about: Shylock’s determination to have ‘justice’, Bassanio offering to pay Shylock double the money he is owed, the arrival of Balthazar, Balthazar’s trick (Shylock can have the pound of flesh but can spill no blood), Shylock’s defeat and humiliation – he must give up all of his money and convert to Christianity.

Suggested structure

Opening statement – Brief introduction (What happened? When? Where? Who was involved?)

Paragraph 1 – Shylock’s determination to get his revenge

Paragraph 2 – Balthazar’s speech

Paragraph 3 – Shylock’s defeat

Concluding remarks – What will happen next?