The quote appears in Act III, Scene 1 and is spoken by Shylock, a Jewish moneylender who uses these lines to fight for equal consideration among his fellow citizens. Shylock is the play’s antagonist and a complicated character who readers often disagree on. He spends the majority of the plays seeking his “pound of flesh” from Antonio (who owes him a great deal of money and has insulted his race and character).
Today’s readers may be torn in regard to how sympathetic they feel towards Shylock’s character after these lines. His message about equality among all human beings is not a new one. Despite this, at the time the play was written in the 1590s, it was somewhat striking. It was unusual to find such a message delivered in such strong and unwavering terms.
Explore If you prick us, do we not bleed?
“If you prick us, do we not bleed?…” Meaning
“If you prick us, do we not bleed?” is a well-known quote from William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice. The quote proudly asserts the equality between Christians and Jews and all other races of human beings on earth. Shylock declares that, just like a Christian, he bleeds when he is pricked and laughs when he is tickled.
The rest of the speech alludes to other universal human experiences. In the last lines, Shylock declares that as Christians would, Jews will also seek vengeance. He has learned a great deal from the cruelty of his fellow man and will use what he has learned to exact the greatest vengeance he possibly can.
Where Did Shakespeare Use This Quote?
William Shakespeare used this quote in Act III, Scene 1 of The Merchant of Venice. It is part of a speech that lasts from line forty-nine to line sixty-one. Here is the quote in context, as spoken by the moneylender Shylock:
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
This excerpt begins a few lines into the speech. Here, Shylock is arguing for the equal treatment and consideration of Jews, a theme that comes up several times in the play. Within these lines, Shylock states that he is a Jew, but, more importantly, he is a human being. He can be hurt with the same weapons, is subject to the same diseases, and is at risk from the same natural elements as “a Christian is.” The most famous lines of this quote utilize repetition in the use of questions and answers. For example, “If you prick us, do we not bleed?”
The speech encompasses emotions ranging from sorrow to vengeance. At the beginning of the speech, which is quoted below, Shylock is alluding to the amount of money that Antonio has cost him. He has failed to repay his debt, and he has also insulted Shylock. He’s laughed at the man’s loss and treated him cruelly due to his race.
Within the play, and specifically within this passage, Shakespeare alludes to moneylending rules in Venice at the time. Christians were forbidden to lend money; therefore, anyone who needed a loan went to a Jewish lender. As with the case of Antonio, many of these men came to resent those to whom they owed money. Shylock pushes back against this and defends his race. The speech begins with this clear reference to Antonio:
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? […]
The answer to this question follows as “I am a Jew.” It is a simple statement, one that should strike readers as quite impactful. This is one of the only moments in the play the reader is meant to feel true sympathy for Shylock. Throughout the rest, Shylock is clearly the villain and without a doubt in the wrong. At the end of the speech, the audience’s sympathies may be turned away from Shylock as the lines take a dark turn.
Shylock reminds everyone listening that, like hunger, cold, and pain, vengeance is also a universal human character trait. Shylock, as a Jew, wants revenge, just as a Christian would. He declares that he will practice the “villainy you teach me” and “execute” it. He will outdo the Christian villains around him and show them what a true villain is.
Why Did Shakespeare Use This Quote?
Shakespeare used this quote in order to evoke the reader’s sympathy (and speak on a serious social issue) for Shylock. He is commonly regarded as the antagonist of the play. But, at this moment, readers may waiver their dislike of him. Through these lines, one may come to a better understanding of why Shylock behaves in the way he does.
His hatred for the world, and especially Christians, is a result of the way he has been treated throughout his life. His anger for Antonio feels well earned after one finishes reading these lines. But, at the same time, his desire for vengeance and willingness to use violence firmly categorize him as a villain.
This line is part of a speech delivered by Shylock in William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice. The famous line declares that Jews, like Christians and all other races and peoples, are human.
Through the speech, Shylock declares that Jews are as human as Christians are and should be treated as such. He says that Jews bleed when they are hurt, laugh when they are tickled, and feel the elements as all other human beings do.
Throughout the play, Antonio is hostile towards Shylock because he is a Jew and because Antonio owes him money. Throughout the play, Antonio speaks badly of Shylock, makes fun of him, and treats him with extreme disregard all on the basis of his race.
Other Quotes from The Merchant of Venice
- “The quality of mercy is not strained” – from one of the greatest monologues written by William Shakespeare. Portia delivers this monologue to Shylock in Act IV, Scene 1 of The Merchant of Venice.
- “All that glisters is not gold” – a quote that originated in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice. It is commonly used today with the word “glitter” instead of “glisters.”
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- Read: The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare
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