It’s the Economy, Salerio

Remarks on the Economic and Historical Background of Merchant of Venice

Shakespeare's depiction of Shylock in The Merchant of Venice was not the typical anti-Semitic Elizabethan race-baiting, but more complex, even sympathetic (as far as anti-Semitic Elizabethan race-baiting goes.)
How to Get Clear of All the Debts I Owe
To Raise a Present Sum
A Wealthy Hebrew of My Tribe
          Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice has long inspired English scholars to dust off their Adam Smith, revisit their Marx, and brush up on their quantity theory of money. Theobald Leinward observes that the play marks “Shakespeare’s only sustained imagining of a merchant” (13).  In putting on the stage the merchant's world, the play offers an evocative lesson on the history of finance and market economics in early modern England and invites reflection on the integral influence of capital and its devices over individual behavior and social relationships. Within the last decade or so, the play has been the occasion to three studies that insightfully explore the background economics of the text. Leinward reads Antonio as an example of the psychological toll that early modern credit relations took
on individuals. Lars Engles states that he will “survey the play with something of an accountant’s eye for cash flows, unpaid balances, and the like” in sketching the out play’s presentation of human relations “as a market of exchangeable values” (77-8).  And Ania Loomba explores the representation of Shylock to test the proposition that a newly emerging economic order can fulfill Marx’s vision by moderating or overriding age-old religious and racial prejudices. My present inquiry into the play borrows (to succumb to an apt figure of speech) against the principal of these three studies. However, where each of these studies subordinates the economic questions raised by the play to some wider methodological or ideological interest (for Leinward, the conditioning idiom is psychoanlytical; for Engles, philosophical pragmatism with a seasoning of postmodernism; and Loomba, postcolonial), I focus my examination of the play on the crucial transaction within the text that founds the dramatic action and try to consider it more closely within the context of a historicist curiosity about contemporary economic realities and social experience.
          In Shylock’s first appearance on stage in the Merchant of Venice, he is discussing with Bassanio the terms of his loan to Antonio which Bassanio will then receive to fund his pursuit in Belmont of “a lady richly left” (1.1.161).  It is a curious set of circumstances that draws these two characters together – a curious set of circumstances somewhat concealed in the dramatization of the scene.  A Venetian gentleman (“a scholar and a soldier” connected with the noble house of Montferrat (1.2.11)) has approached a Jewish moneylender (a legal alien, a social pariah, and generally not a very nice person) in the name of his friend (a successful trader yet mysteriously sad) to obtain a loan in his own behalf.  As an additional complication of the transaction, Shylock notes that he himself does not have the funds on hand, but that he will be able to raise them from “a wealthy Hebrew of my tribe” (1.2.54), Tubal.  With the unannounced appearance of Antonio himself, the three negotiate what is, finally, the most twisted detail of all:   the “merry bond” (1.2.142) whereby, in the event Antonio should default, Shylock will receive a pound of his flesh.  From this crucial arrangement, the action of the story unfolds.
          There is a certain dramatic necessity to the circumstances here noted.  Shylock as the villain must insist upon the sinister terms of the bond as agent of the central conflict that drives the drama.  Antonio must guarantee the loan for Bassanio to magnify the familiar Shakespearean rivalry between lover and friend.[1]  But the implications of their arrangement extend beyond the exigencies of the stagecraft.  The scene supports a whole cosmology of extra-dramatic commentary, and while an infernal hierarchy of drill-down menus – or, perhaps more felicitously, a flurry of pop-ups – comes to mind in imagining the ways in which the particulars might be explored, I organize my remarks around three questions:
1. Why does Bassanio a gentleman need to turn to Antonio, a merchant to support his venture? 
2. Why does Antonio then resort to Shylock for his loan? 
3. Why does Shylock turn to Tubal?  Or, rather, why should Shakespeare have Shylock turn to Tubal?
In exploring these three questions, I hope to reveal some coherence to the cultural background – Shakespeare’s imaginings – that sustain the play’s representation of commercial relationships and their social implications.

How to Get Clear of All the Debts I Owe

Why does Bassanio need a loan from Antonio?  Bassanio himself answers this question directly in making his request of Antonio:
‘Tis not unknown to you, Antonio,
How much I have disabled mine estate
By something showing a more swelling port
Than my faint means would grant continuance,
Nor do I now make moan to be abridged
From such a noble rate; but my chief care
Is to come fairly off from the great debts
Wherein my time something too prodigal
Hath left me gaged. (1.1.123-30)
 In short, Bassanio has been living beyond his means.  We see his improvidence in action a little later in Act 2 when he takes Shylock’s servant, Lancelot, for his own.  Lancelot covets his new situation, in part, for “the rare new liveries” Bassanio gives his servants.  “Thou hast obtained his suit,” Bassanio informs him, but qualifies the advantages in following “so poor a gentlemen” (2.2.138, 142).  Shylock, happy to serve the wastrel a bad turn, finds consolation in pawning off this “huge feeder” on Bassanio, where he will “help to waste/ His borrowed purse” (2.5.45, 49-50).
          Bassanio’s financial straits gesture toward a set of broad economic transformations which, as historian Lawrence Stone argues in The Crisis of the Aristocracy 1558-1641, made the English aristocracy its special target.  As the title of Stone’s book suggests, these could be tough times for those who belonged, or styled themselves as belonging, to the privileged classes.  It would appear that Bassanio is a scion of the hereditary elite. In discussing his situation with Antonio, he makes reference to his “(disabled) estate” (1.1.123).  Although the Oxford edition of the play later glosses this term, in Act III, as “condition” (3.2.234), it carries the venerable implication of landed property, in which case there is a noteworthy historical proviso.  As Stone observes, steady price inflation through most of the sixteenth century undermined the profitability of land:
This secular movement, which was caused primarily by a very sharp growth of population, put an unusual premium on energy and adaptability and turned conservatism from a force making for stability into a quick way to economic disaster.  Landed families which stuck to the old ways, left rents as they were, and continued to grant long leases soon found themselves trapped between static incomes and rising prices. (188)
 It wasn’t until after 1590 that incomes from landed estates were able to overtake price inflation, but even then it required, as Stone notes, savvy financial management.  The pinch many nobleman suffered in their revenues was compounded by the unrelenting demands of status.  The aristocracy’s hereditary conviction that they should outshine (hence, outspend) all those below them in the social order demanded flights of consumption which, in many cases, their diminishing income (especially relative to the rising mercantile class) could no longer support. In defending their inveterate superiority, they were put to the test by a new generation of parvenus.  “It is new wealth,” Stone writes, “which sets the standard of novelty, of fashion, and of opulent display, simply because wealth is not a sufficient source of honor in itself” (185).  Bassanio is the poster-boy for such conspicuous consumption.  He admits to having disabled his estate by “showing a more swelling port/ Than my faint means would grant continuances” (1.1.124-5).  But he is reluctant to “be abridged/ From such a noble rate” (1.1.125-6). True to his word, as soon as he has obtained his next loan, he immediately goes out and hires a jester, with special instructions that he be given a livery “more guarded [i.e., decorated, not modest] than his fellows’” (2.2.149).  Not only must he have the latest in off-the-cuff home entertainment, but his fool has to be better dressed than the others.
          Away from Venice, in Belmont, the competition is even more fierce.  Bassanio is engaged in an aristocratic arms race against a field worthy of a Miss Universe competition.  Besides the unsuccessful Arragon and Morocco, there are worthies from several European states, including an English Baron who Portia (in a remark sure to amuse the home crowd) mocks for having conned his fashions entirely from abroad.  With her hefty dowry, Portia offers a resolution to Bassanio’s dilemma familiar to the period.  Stone denotes heiresses as one of the principle causes of growth in aristocratic fortunes during the period.[2]  An enterprising bachelor of a failing dynastic line could restore the family fortune in exchanging the enchantment of his title for the more material charms of a successful burgher’s daughter.  The “lott’ry” (2.1.15) devised by Portia’s father is a perverse literalization of what Stone terms “matrimonial enterprise” (194).  We have no evidence of the origin of her father’s wealth, so it is hard to say what the class dynamics between them are.  But it is clear that she has attracted the attention of many noblemen.  Considered in the context of Stone’s assessment, Bassanio’s case is representative:  there is evidence of only minimal romance in his attraction to Portia and he has difficulty evoking her outside of the bounty she represents to him.  Had she a brother to claim the greater portion of her inheritance, it seems unlikely that Bassanio would find any pleasure in that “happy torment” (3.2.37) which he claims to endure for her.  Portia entertains her own doubts regarding Bassanio’s motives.  When he declares himself “upon the rack” (3.2.25) in his anxiety to play the casket game, she replies, “Upon the rack, Bassanio? Then confess/ What treason there is mingled with your love” (3.2. 26-27).[3]  At the same time, were her own financial security not settled for her by her father’s will, she and Nerissa might have better motive themselves to reconsider Nerissa’s judgement on Bassanio as “best deserving a fair lady” (1.2.115). 
          When Bassanio wins his prize, he does not wax poetic over the bliss of love set free.  He fixes instead on the enhancement of his own public image:
          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 doubt
Whether those peals 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.  (3.2.139-48)
Editors note that the original published editions of the play lack a stage direction for the kiss prescribed by the winning casket’s scroll.  But, in the preamble that forestalls it, the kiss itself all but disappears on Bassanio’s tongue.  By the time he is done with it, it is little more than the notary Shylock called for earlier to seal the bond. An actress sensitive to the tenor of Bassanio’s reaction might strike, in Portia’s speech that follows, just the right note of bathos.  Or barely disguised chagrin. 
 To Raise a Present Sum
          Bassanio’s financial predicament also draws attention to that complex organization of instruments and institutions which, through the provision and protection of the currency, makes business possible in a large economy.  Money, or more specifically, currency, greases the moving parts of commerce, where it is not a moving part itself.  Today this apparatus is so highly developed and efficient so as to be almost invisible (I offer in illustration my own relative obliviousness toward the whole infrastructure of credit and commerce concealed in every use of my credit card).  In Shakespeare’s day, it was a rude and creaky contraption that made itself noticed in too many ways.  Money itself, that most transparent of modern media, was a palpable nuisance for a variety of reasons.  One was the intuitive and reactionary association of available capital with species – that feeling we all get from the heft of gold and silver pressed into a coin.  There is a natural tendency for people to be jealous of their possessions, and the insistence on familiar and reliable tokens of exchanges can create difficulties of a purely logistical character that hinder the availability of capital.[4]  An expanding and modernizing economy demanded more dynamic and flexible media for exchange, and credit – or, as its critics in the period would have it, usury – was one innovative response to this age old problem.  It was in this period that the English first began to experiment with this innovation on a widespread basis.  That it was an yet a new and buggy system for finance may explain why Bassanio and Antonio are reduced to the extreme exigency of turning to Shylock.  Antonio makes very clear to Shylock his disinclination:
I am as like to call thee [dog] again,
To spit on thee again, to spurn thee, too.
If thou wilt lend this money, lend it not
As to they friends; for when did friendship take
A breed for barren metal of his friend?
But let it rather to thine enemy
Who, if he break, thou mayst with better face
Exact the penalty. (1.3.126-132)
Given his undisguised hostility, it is curious that Antonio doesn’t instead call in a favor among one of those merchants who he has bailed out as “a Christian courtesy” (3.1.46) in the past. The possibility that his fellow Christian merchants, clinging to an antiquated system of personal credit relations, just didn’t have the money to spare offers a more compelling explanation for their predicament.  After Antonio authorizes Bassanio to borrow money in his name, he exhorts him, “Go presently inquire, and so will I,/ Where money is” (1.1.183-4).  That indeterminate “where” suggests that it is not easy to come by at that moment. [5]  In procuring his friend’s loan, Antonio castigates Shylock for breeding “barren metal” (1.3.130).  Shylock may be deliberating mystifying the process when he recounts the biblical tale of Jacob’s compromise with Laban (though as we will see below, Engles suggests that he is actually doing just the opposite.)  Usury is not black magic or alchemy.  Shylock’s success indicates a highly technical accomplishment in which, by utilizing the more abstract instruments of contracts, bonds, or bills of exchange within an established network of proto-bankers and financiers, he can marshal together the substantial sum of three thousand ducats, which Bassanio can then go blow among the cash-and-carry merchants of Christian Venice.[6]
A Wealthy Hebrew of My Tribe
In Il Pecerone, the fourteenth century Italian tale from which Shakespeare took the pound-of-flesh story, a wealthy merchant’s son, Giannetto, squanders his uncle Ansaldo’s fortune in two failed attempts to win the hand and estate of the widow of Belmont.[7]  In order to fund a third venture, Ansaldo obtains a loan of 10,000 ducats from the Jew of Mestri, for which a pound of his uncle’s flesh will be the forfeit in the event of default.  Once all the paperwork is put to order, the Jew delivers the 10,000 ducats to Ansaldo directly.  In his adaptation of the tale, Shakespeare deviates on this point from the original.  For while Shylock promises 3,000 ducats to Bassanio, he indicates that the actual funds will come from another source:
I am debating of my present store
And by the near guess of my memory
I cannot instantly raise up the gross
Of full three thousand ducats.  What of that?
Tubal, a wealthy Hebrew of my tribe,
Will furnish me.  (1.3.50-5)[8]
 It is a curious insertion in that, from a dramatic standpoint, it seems unnecessary.  But its effects are worth considering.  On one hand, it reiterates the observation made earlier that liquid capital is hard to come by in Venice.  It also shows that Shylock is not completely isolated in Venice.  By inserting the reference to Tubal here, and then presenting him on stage later, Shakespeare indicates that, while Shylock may be alienated from the Christian Venetians who make up the majority and rule over the city, or at least on uneasy social terms with them, he is still part of a larger Jewish community.  He is not a generically labeled plot device – a mere type – as in the Fiorentino story; he is a social animal as much as the other Venetians.  At the same time, Shylock’s remark shows him to be woven within a more far-reaching social web as part of a network of money-lenders.  Lars Engles points out, “Shylock, it would seem, makes a point here about circulation:  Antonio, in tapping him for cash, has access not to an individual but to a system” (87).
          This is the circulatory system of the Venetian economy.  It would come to be the circulatory system of all modern economies.  Essential to Venetian prosperity, the system and its standards of capital exchange enjoy supremacy under the law.  They trump even human life, as Antonio himself admits when his fortunes turn:
The Duke cannot deny the course of law,
For the commodity that strangers have
With us in Venice, if it be denied,
Will much impeach the justice of the state,
Since that the trade and profit of the city
Consisteth of all nations. (3.3.26-31)
In the trial scene, Shylock reminds the court of the law’s preeminence:
I have possessed your grace of what I purpose
And by our holy Sabbath have I sworn
To have the due and forfeit of my bond.
If you deny it, let the danger light
Upon your charter and your city’s freedom. (4.1.34-38)
 It was a historical irony of sorts that legalized discrimination against Jews forced them into a niche that would become the nucleus of capitalist economies.  Jay L. Halio writes of Jews in Venice at the period, “because so few other occupations were open to them, they became the city’s leading money-lenders and second-hand dealers, or pawnbrokers” (27).  Did this fortuitous occupational specialization augur wider social acceptance for Jews?  This is one question to put to the play, or that the play puts to us.
          In answering this question, Ania Loomba argues against Marx who described the colonial-capitalist system which began to develop institutional coherence in Europe in the sixteenth century as “‘a strange God’ who perched himself side by side with the old divinities of Europe on the altar, and one fine day threw them all overboard with a shove and a kick” (Loomba 154).  This new god supplanted older prejudices with a new prejudice to end all others: the maximization of profit.  Marx invokes Shakespeare’s Timon of Athens in describing money as “a radical leveller” that “extinguishes all distinctions” (Loomba 155).  Was this progressive in our sense of the word?  In another context, Engles evokes philosopher Richard Rorty’s vision of civil society as a Kuwaiti bazaar where “many of the people… prefer to die rather than share beliefs of many of those with whom they are haggling yet… haggl[e] profitably away nevertheless” (103).  The image suggests that the true “green space” of the play might not be Belmont, but the Rialto, the heart of the economic circulatory system, which, surprisingly, never seems to serve as a scene-setting in the play.[9]  Elsewhere, Engles suggests that this possibility for reconciliation on a commercial basis, idealized in the Rialto, is what Shylock is getting at when he brings up the story of Jacob and Laban’s flocks with Antonio and Bassanio: “Shylock’s abortive scriptural explanation of the usurer’s relation to the capital needed by merchants is in fact an extraordinarily progressive one” (91).  But Antonio cuts him off precisely because he cannot square such a vision with the old-fashioned social order he idealizes: “A Christian merchant, preserving homosocial connections to a Lord, cannot afford to understand the parable of economic relations offered by the Jew” (91).     
          Loomba contends Antonio’s retrogressive impulse pervades the play as a whole:  “The Merchant of Venicemakes clear that the making of money exacerbates religious differences, rather than undermining them” (155). Considered in the stage lighting of the drama as it is played out before us, unexplicated, with Shylock vanquished and a trio of male Christian Venetians happily paired off in the end, her claim is compelling.  But emphasis on these conventional resolutions of the play patches over some of the deeper cracks that have been opened in the framework of exclusionary Christian homogeneity.  The configuration of Bassanio and Antonio’s dependence on Shylock marks one critical perspective by which I have suggested that a reader, if not an audience, questions the received arrangements of custom, status, and privilege.  The historical fate of Roderigo Lopez, physician to the Queen, may speak to the same question.  The shadow of the trial, two years earlier, fell across the début of theMerchant.  Writes Loomba, “In 1594, London had also been rocked by the controversy surrounding the trial of Roderigo Lopez, a Portuguese Jewish convert who was Queen Elizabeth’s physician and was accused of poisoning her.  Although the part played by his Jewishness in the trial remains open to debate, Lopez’s execution ensured the success of a rerun of Chirstopher Marlowe’s play, The Jew of Malta” (143).  To the lingering sensation of the trial, she links the xenophobic riots of hooligan apprentices that James Shapiro also associates with the debut of the play.  “Shapiro,” writes Loomba, “points out that the play rewrites the dynamics of this hatred by casting a Jew as the instigator of the violence” (143).  A more thorough delineation of the trial’s history, however, may support a different take on the play’s relationship to these events.[10]
          The Lopez trial did not originate as an act of spontaneous popular hostility toward foreigners, or even toward a Jew.  Lopez’s misfortunes grew out of a spat with the Earl of Essex, Elizabeth’s favorite.  In 1592, Lopez betrayed to the queen an intrigue Essex had been plotting with Spanish refugees.  Differences between Lopez and Essex multiplied.  By an indirect chain of events, Lopez was drawn into a plot that threatened the queen. Although he did not act against his patron, evidence of Lopez’s knowledge of the conspiracy was drummed up by Essex and his lackies, and the physician was charged with treason.  Essex presided as judge over his trial, and the Solicter General Edward Coke, for his part, did not scruple to exploit popular prejudice against Jews in making his case for the Crown.  Lopez was convicted, but Elizabeth dithered for several weeks in signing the death warrant.  Finally, pressured by the Lord Chief Justice, a partisan of Essex’s, she capitulated.  For in the state, as on the stage, the Law must hold priority.
          Arthur Quiller-Couch and John Dover Wilson, in their edition of the play, note of the trial scene, “The setting resembles the trial of Roderigo Lopez before Essex and the magnificoes of London, the city fathers” (Halio 188).  Lopez was executed.  Shylock is not.  And though Portia’s speech on the quality of mercy is delivered in remonstration of Shylock, as a set speech it speaks outside the immediate circumstances of the drama itself.  It is a mercy that is ultimately extended to Shylock.  Again not to the full satisfaction perhaps of our own sense of justice, but beyond the narrow compass of anti-semitic intolerance at its worst.  It bespeaks a new god itself, one that doesn’t violently throw the old ones off the altar, but converts them (with all the irreverence which that implies to old orthodoxies) to its own hapless vision of salvation.
          Is the effect of the play to inflame racial prejudice and rationalize xenophobic violence?  I think reading it against the history of Roderigo Lopez and his trial – insofar as it still registered, or registers, within the public imagination in connection with the play – argues against the probability.  There are at least three other factors within the text itself that, in closing, I would put forward for consideration.

1.  To what extent is Shylock’s malevolence an unequivocal consequence of his religious identification, and to what extent is it a function of a more individualized prerogative?2.  To what extent is the assessment or response to his actions conditioned (historically speaking,mitigated might be the better word) by a representation of their motives?3. Finally, to what extent do we interpret the characterization of Shylock against the grain of the weaknesses and frailties of a common human nature?

Actors and directors and costume designers have some influence in how audiences of the play answer these questions.  And ultimately, a reader’s or viewer’s own social position plays a decisive role in determining how he or she comes to respond.  One of the virtues of Shakespeare’s play is its capacity to model some of these social positions for us, within the boundaries of the Venetian world it conjures up.  With many critics of the play, we may be inclined to assume a grosser instinct prevailed among Shakespeare’s own audience (if our own popular audiences are any example, not without justice.)  But there are audiences within audiences, as there are communities within communities, and it is likely the case that a provocative work of art, as much as a thoroughly reasoned logical argument, is only going to be capable of moving the sentiments or shifting the opinions of a very small portion on the margin of that general audience anyway.  This holds even more firmly for art or argumentation with some aspiration to progressiveness.  The forthcoming Mel Gibson movie revives a controversy among progressively minded critics akin to that which gets hashed out with almost every new production of The Merchant of Venice.  The point has been made by one commentator that it is not the latent anti-Semitism of the average American man or woman sensuel(le) seeing the movie which should give us cause for alarm.[11]  It is against the anti-Semitism of audiences in more culturally closed autocratic societies, where privations economic and intellectual deaden sensitivities and nurture resentments, that we should ready our guard.  In these places (I am thinking of Alabama, but I suspect the commentator had somewhere more exotic in mind), we must really worry about inflammatory and historically inaccurate ideas (not to mention, in some cases, historically accurate ideas) being taken to the street.  In America, there are too many cars out there in the street already for much of that to happen.  And American audiences, as the commentator suggested, are indeed too sophisticated to be taken in. If so, the proposition probably owes its likelihood in some deciduous, vine-creeping, trickle-down way to the questions raised by Shakespeare’s Merchant and Shakespeare’s Jews. “Shylock’s conversion,” notes Loomba poignantly, “indicates not universal brotherhood but his marginalization from Christian society” (156).  Happily, over time, society itself has been marginalized from this kind of Christian society.  And the spectacle of Shylock’s defenestration may have been a step forward for Elizabethans, even as it is a step backwards for us.


Barton, Anne.  Introduction to The Merchant of Venice.  The Riverside Shakespeare.  Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1974.  250-3.
Engle, Lars.  Shakespearean Pragmatism.  Chicago: University of Chicago Press.  77-106.
Furness, Horace Howard, Ed.  A New Variorum Edition of Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice.  New York, American Scholar Publications, Inc., 1965.
Halio. Jay S.  Introduction.  The Merchant of Venice.  Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993.  1-83.
Leinwand, Theodore B.  Theatre, Finance and Society in Early Modern England.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Loomba, Ania.  Shakespeare, Race, and Colonialism.  Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.  135-160.
Pinker, Steven.  The Blank Slate.  New York: Viking, 2002.
Shakespeare, William.  The Merchant of Venice.  Ed. Jay L. Halio.  Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993.
Stone, Lawrence.  The Crisis of the Aristocracy 158-1641.  Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1965.
Waters, W. G. (Trans.)  The Pecorone of Giovanni.  London: The Society of Bibliophiles, 1901.  111-156.

It’s the Economy, Salerio
It’s the Economy, Salerio
[1] Anne Barton writes, “The Merchant of Venice is a play about contrasted attitudes towards wealth and the life-styles dictated by each, but it also a comedy which returns to that question of love and friendship and the rivalry between them which Shakespeare had first explored in The Two Gentleman of Verona” (252).  Antonio’s problematic integration within the comic structure of the play, especially conspicuous at the end, reminds me the obstacle Mercutio poses to the unfolding romance of Romeo and Juliet.  Of course, Shakespeare legendarily killed off Mercutio to keep the comedy there in check and the tragedy on track.  In Merchant, something like the opposite occurs, where Shylock must be done away with to allow the mostly generic final act to proceed.
[2] See Stone, pp. 192-194.
[3] Antonio used the same expression earlier in conveying to Bassanio the pains to which he was ready to extend himself in obtaining Antonio his loan:
             Try what my credit can in Venice do;
             That shall be racked, even to the uttermost,
             To furnish thee to Belmont, to fair Portia. (1.1.180-2)
[4] See Stone on “Storage and Transfer of Cash,” pp. 508-514.  He observes, “To a European one of the most striking features of the English economy was the total lack of either government rentes or deposit banking facilities” (508-9), a point that obviously has more bearing on the English context of the play than the Venetian.
[5] In this light, it would have been far more clever of Lancelot, in bantering with Jessica about her conversion, to have remarked, “If we grow all to be pork-eaters, we shall not shortly have money for a rasher on the coals.” Given the liberties of Elizabethan grammar, especially in the mouth of fools, perhaps this is an implication of his comment nevertheless.
[6] In The Blank Slate, Steven Pinker describes “the physical fallacy” : “the belief that an object has a true and constant value, as opposed to being worth only what someone is willing to pay for it at a given place and time” (234).  It is a concept which I find insightful, for reasons Pinker will make obvious, in considering the irrational enmity which Antonio bears Shylock. Pinker writes:
The belief that goods have a ‘just price’ implies that it is avaricious to charge anything higher, and the result has been mandatory pricing schemes in medieval times, communist regimes, and Third World countries.  Such attempts to work around the law of supply and demand have usually led to waste, shortages, and black markets. Another consequence of the physical fallacy is the widespread practice of outlawing interest, which comes from the intuition that it is rapacious to demand additional money from someone who has paid back exactly what he has borrowed.  Of course, the only reason people borrow money at one time and repay it later is that the money is worth more to them at the time they borrow it than it will be at the time they repay it.  So when regimes enact sweeping usury laws, people who could put money to productive use cannot get it, and everyone’s standards of living go down.
…because lenders and middlemen do not cause tangible objects to come into being, their contributions are difficult to grasp, and they are often thought of as skimmers and parasites.  A recurring event in human history is the outbreak of ghettoization, confiscation, expulsion, and mob violence against middlemen, of ethnic minorities who learned to specialize in the middleman niche.  The Jews in Europe are the most familiar examples, but the expatriate Chinese, the Lebanese, the Armenians, and the Gujeraties and Chettyars of India have suffered similar histories of persecution. (234-5)
[7] My synopsis is based on the modern English translation by W. G. Waters.  An appendix in H.H. Furness’s variorum edition of the text also presents Samuel Johnson’s epitome of the earliest surviving translation from 1755.  See pp. 297-305.
[8] There appears to be some editorial confusion on this point in the Halio’s Oxford edition of the text.  Once the terms have been negotiated, Shylock says:
Then meet me forthwith at the notary’s;
Give him direction for this marry bond,
And I will go and purse the ducats straight,
See to my house–left in the fearful guard
Of an unthrifty knave–and presently
I’ll be with you. (1.3.169-73)
A footnote reads, “i.e. get the money straightaway.  But earlier (51-5) Shylock indicated he would have to depend on Tubal for the money” (1.3).  However, reading Shylock’s announced itinerary as a series, his pursing the ducats straight would not be inconsistent with his earlier remark, if the first thing he did was to go visit Tubal.
[9] Following Pinker’s elaboration of the physical fallacy (see n. 6), is there any significance attached to the fact that none of the business of the play seems to take place in the Rialto?  Shylock’s remark to Antonio highlights the fact : “In the Rialto you have rated me/ About my moneys and my usances” (1.3.104-5).  If the marketplace was conceivable by early modern social theorists (among whom Shakespeare would be one of the most eminent) as a progressive space for social interaction on an impersonal, mutually beneficial basis, Antonio’s rude and offensive behavior toward Shylock keeps the Rialto from serving as such a setting in Shakespeare’s Venice.  And it would be perfectly understandable why Shylock might prefer not to be seen there.  Answering this question conclusively would begin with a better historical understanding of the Rialto, and the Royal Exchange in London, than I possess presently.
[10] The history is outlined in an appendix to the Furness variorum edition of the play.  See pp. 398-9.
[11] I have tried without success to track down the commentator on the Internet.  I believe I heard it on the radio and I suspect it may have been the public radio program, “Marketplace” (fittingly enough).  There is a story from 8 September 2003 about international distribution of the film with a link to a Real 

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