Recently I picked up a book of Shakespearean paper dolls, which I have to get around to reviewing when I have a moment. The kids seem to love it. They pick up characters and say “Who’s this? What story is he in? Is he a good guy or a bad guy?”
Sometimes, they want the story told. And wouldn’t you know one of them picks Shylock?'
So here, in a nutshell, is the quick and dirty Merchant that my kids got. It is fairly brutal, so those with delicate sensibilities about effing with the text are fairly warned….
Once upon a time there was a businessman named Antonio. Normally Antonio had lots of money, but he’d made some bad business decisions and lost a lot of it, and needed more. So he went to his friend Shylock, who had lots of money. Shylock had so much money, in fact, that that was his business – all he did was lend money to people.
Antonio asked his friend to borrow some money. Shylock said, “How will I know that you can pay me back? You make bad business decisions, you lose money.” Antonio promised that he would be able to pay it back. Shylock said, “I need some assurances. So let us say, in the contract, that if you are unable to pay me back my money, I … get to cut off your fingers.”
[ NOTE : I figured explaining “pound of flesh” was a little too much. ]
Antonion did not like this deal one bit. “How could I ever do business without my fingers?” he asked. “Then I would never be able to make money.”
“But you are so very confident that you will be able to pay me back, that I will never need to use the contract, now will I?”
Antonio needed the money, so he agreed, even though he was not too happy about the deal. He then set about trying to make some better business decisions so that he would be able to pay back the money and not lose his fingers.
Unfortunately he did not have good luck, and as the day approached where he was supposed to repay Shylock, he still didn’t have the money. He went to his friend and said, “You weren’t serious about the finger thing, were you?” and Shylock said, “Oh yes, I certainly was, a contract is a contract.”
Right about this time, Portia, Antonio’s daughter who had been away at law school [NOTE – I know, I know, sue me…. ] came back to visit her father and heard the whole story. “That is crazy!” she shouted. “He can’t possibly think that he can take your fingers!" We have to take this before the judge.”
So they all went in front of the judge. Shylock got up and said simply, “Your honor – a contract is a contract. I explained the terms up front, Antonio agreed. He is unable to pay me my money, therefore I get his fingers.”
Portia then stood up for her turn, and pled for mercy from the judge. “If he has no fingers he will never be able to work, and then he will never be able to make money again!” she said.
The judge considered both arguments. He said, “While I agree that these are horrible terms, I have to acknowledge that the contract is binding – your father knew the rules, he signed the paper, I can’t see how I can change that.” Shylock thought that this was wonderful, and started coming toward Antonio.
“BUT!” said the judge, “I see nowhere in this contract about you getting to take any of his blood. So it is my ruling that you are entitled to take Antonio’s fingers, but not any of his blood. You may begin.”
Shylock thought about this for a moment. He considered his options, trying to figure out how to do that. “That’s crazy!” he shouted at the judge, “You know perfectly well that if I take his fingers, there’s going to be blood!”
“That,” said the judge, “Is not our problem. A contract is a contract, and you didn’t write in anything about blood.”
Everyone laughed at Shylock then, no longer scared of him. Humiliated, he ran away and was never seen again.