Dear Shakespeare fans

If you know your Shakespeare, would you kindly tell me in plain English what this sentence means? (It is referring to two characters in one of his plays. I do not know which one, but – of course – you do.)

“Antonio shows his love for Bassanio by staking a pound of flesh.”

Thank you,

James

P.S. Excuse me for being so poorly educated as not to know the Bard. In secondary school 50 years ago, I slept during English class when it came to Shakespeare. I still find his plays very boring. I admit to being very lowbrow.

It’s from the Merchant of Venice and is fairly literal. At Shylock’s (another character - a moneylender and the central character) suggestion, Antonio agrees to terms of a pound of flesh to be cut off his body if he fails to repay a loan.
Antonio doesn’t actually want the money for himself. He needs it to lend to his friend Bassanio (so that he can woo a woman), which I assume is why the author feels that this is an indication of how much he thinks of Bassanio.

Here’s a little more:

Bassanio is trying to figure out how to marry her (Portia, the lady he wishes to woo). He negotiates with the Jewish moneylender, Shylock, asking for 3,000 gold coins (ducats). Bassanio borrows the money on his friend Antonio’s credit. Trouble is, Antonio is an anti-Semite (he is prejudiced against Jewish people) and is offensive to Shylock whenever he has the chance. Slyly, Shylock says he’ll try out Antonio’s method of business by lending him the money interest-free. BUT, this is on the condition that Antonio signs a bond promising that if the debt goes unpaid, Antonio will give Shylock a pound of his own flesh. This seems like a good idea at the time, as Antonio is sure he’ll have earned the money from his ships before Shylock’s due date.

shmoop.com/merchant-of-venice/summary.html

Thank you VERY much, Beeesneees. So it is to be taken literally. How gruesome! (Say! Maybe if Shakespeare were presented in modern English, even lowbrow people like me might become interested.) Thanks again for the excellent explanation.

James

Oh, it’s an interesting story. Shylock’s idea was that Antonio’s heart would weigh about a pound, and this is the area of ‘flesh’ that he intended to demand.
Antonio, you might have guessed, couldn’t repay the loan in time either.
It all went to court, but the law was on Shylock’s side…

In addition, although in your quotation it is to be taken literally, the term ‘a pound of flesh’ as with so many of Shakespeare’s phrases, has been subsumed into the language, most frequently in the phrase
You’re determined to get your poind of flesh, aren’t you?
when the speaker feels the person is demanding a lot.

So your boss wants you to work overtime on Friday but will not pay you more. He’s determined to get his pound of flesh, isn’t he?
You want to buy the car but only if you can persuade the salesman to give you free servicing, tax and insurance? You really want your pound of flesh on that deal.

Beeesneees:

Don’t keep us guessing!

Did Antonio have to give up a pound of his flesh?

(If you had been my teacher, maybe I would not have fallen asleep in class. My teacher was a wonderful man and he truly loved his Shakespeare. Sadly, he did not know how to convey it to dunces like me.)

This is one of my favourite Shakespeare plays, because of all the twists and turns in the plot. For example, when she discovers what has happened, Portia (who is falling for Bassanio) actually gives Bassanio enough and more to repay the debt, but Shylock will have none of it because it is overdue. He is determined to hold Antonio to the original agreement and takes him to court. At this point, Portia, who is quite a wilful lady, decides she is going to pretend to be Antonio’s lawyer, dresses up as a man, and goes to court in Antonio’s defence. During the trial she is not best pleased to hear Bassanio declare that he wishes he could trade both his wife and his life to save Antonio, but of course she is in disguise and can say nothing - that leads to another twist in the story, but back to the main point:

Shylock wins the ruling and is sharpening his knife and ready to go in for the kill when the crafty Portia points out that the agreement was for a pound of flesh - and flesh only. Shylock can take his pound of flesh, but in doing so, is not allowed to draw a single drop of blood (as blood is not flesh). If he draws blood along with the flesh then Shylock will be guilty of plotting to murder a Christian Venetian and the penalty for that is losing everything he owns.

That’s by no means the end of the story, as things go from bad to worse for Shylock.

This is one of my favourite Shakespeare plays, because of all the twists and turns in the plot. For example, when she discovers what has happened, Portia (who is falling for Bassanio) actually gives Bassanio enough and more to repay the debt, but Shylock will have none of it because it is overdue. He is determined to hold Antonio to the original agreement and takes him to court. At this point, Portia, who is quite a wilful lady, decides she is going to pretend to be Antonio’s lawyer, dresses up as a man, and goes to court in Antonio’s defence. During the trial she is not best pleased to hear Bassanio declare that he wishes he could trade both his wife and his life to save Antonio, but of course she is in disguise and can say nothing - that leads to another twist in the story, but back to the main point:

Shylock wins the ruling and is sharpening his knife and ready to go in for the kill when the crafty Portia points out that the agreement was for a pound of flesh - and flesh only. Shylock can take his pound of flesh, but in doing so, is not allowed to draw a single drop of blood (as blood is not flesh). If he draws blood along with the flesh then Shylock will be guilty of plotting to murder a Christian Venetian and the penalty for that is losing everything he owns.

That’s by no means the end of the story, as things go from bad to worse for Shylock.

… and you, James, are far from a dunce!

Thank you, Beeesneees, for your answer and for being able to interest me (sort of) in Shakespeare.

I am beginning to see why his plays have resonated with so many people.

James

Beeesneees,

  1. Bassanio negotiates with Shylock, the Jewish moneylender, asking for 3,000 gold coins.
  2. Shylock lends Antonio money interest-free but on terms of a pound of flesh to be
    cut off his body if he(Antonio) fails to repay that loan (in time).
    Please check the above sentences and comment.

2 needs commas. Is the flesh to be cut off Shylock’s body or Antonio’s body? It’s unclear.

Beeesneees,
2. Shylock lends Antonio money interest-free, but on terms of a pound of flesh to be
cut off Antonio’s body, if he(Antonio) fails to repay that loan (in time).
Is this sentence OK?

I answered this in a full earlier, but there was a Gateway timeout and a lot of my replies didn’t get through. I don’t have time to go back through them.
Why not just stick to the original which I already provided.