Martin Foreman
drama and fiction

A Pound of Flesh

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A Pound of Flesh
text is provisional and subject to change
concept and all modern text © Martin Foreman
full script available:

Act Two, Scene Sixteen
Venice, a prison cell


ANTONIO My dear Bassanio, shake off this woe.
The rising sun doth chase the gloom of night
as eager hounds the fleeing wolf pursue
into its hidden cave. Now must thou greet
the virgin day that beckons thee, forget
the hard and grievous trials that brought us here.
BASSANIO Forget? I can no more forget what thou
art come than now forget this mouth that begged
thee yield to my desires and wasteful greed.
Forget the air of piteous youth that masked
my face and swayed thy heart? Forget the hand
that took thy gold as eagerly as boys
steal apples from a farmer's field? Forget
the love that binds thee to my heart? Thy fate
draws near and I was he who brought thee here.
ANTONIO No, most dear Bassanio. For long years past
my wealth has brought me suitors, who with false
and crafty words have promised faithful love.
None touched my heart as thine did mine, nor
did bear a mien so fair as that I now
behold. If I had lived one hundred years
without thy love all would have been as void
of light and warmth as is the darkest tomb.
To all comes this bitter end and welcome.
BASSANIO Welcome that we see each other no more?
Welcome that soon thy kind and gentle face
shall cry with pain as . . . I cannot go on.
After this day who shall now comfort me
as thou hast done? When love escaped or mocked
at me, thy quiet words did soothe my pride.
When I was houseless, thou didst shelter me.
When boasting fame and wealth I did not have,
when seeking friends or young and laughing bawds,
fine Flanders cloth, gold rings or chambers where
such riches were displayed, how oft thy purse,
as ancients' famous Horn, upon me show'r'd
unlimited thy bounty. Where should I
now find a man as kind and wise as thee?
ANTONIO Now thou art wed, our bond is broken.
Must Portia be the compass of thy love
and holder of thy heart. My life is at an end,
thine has scarce begun. Come, a farewell kiss.
BASSANIO Farewell indeed. This day I shall not outlive thee.
This body is a grudging shadow, dragged
from street to street as coster's broken cart.
Fair Portia is dead, Nerissa too.
To Padua they went, to seek advice
from Bellario, her lawyer cousin,
wise learning that might save thee from thy fate.
But there foul vapours swirled, brought forth disease,
dire pestilence and ever deadly pox.
ANTONIO Then all is lost. My life was sworn for love,
my love for thee and thine for fair Portia,
but heedless Fortune, like ravening Greeks
through Trojan gates, leaves desolation bleak.
Yet one thing more. This morn before thou cam'st
to God in prayer I did confess my sin.
BASSANIO What sin hast thou but kindness and good heart?
ANTONIO Didst thou not hear the Jew in court?
as he sought thy life and spurned all mercy.
May cursed be he and his race evermore.
ANTONIO Yet curse him I cannot.
BASSANIO Then twice do I
damn his every hour and every minute
till sour Mephisto end his wicked life.
ANTONIO But yesterday his words did strike my heart.
In righteous ire he asked "Hath not a Jew
eyes, hands, organs, dimensions?"
If we prick them do they not bleed?
If we seek revenge, shall they not too?
How oft on the Rialto did I spurn
his beard and gabardine? How oft I laughed
at words he spoke in harsh and alien tongue?
How oft I mocked his strange foul diet. Yet,
bereft a wife, he loved a daughter,
mayhap had honest friendships in his tribe.
Whence came my hatred? What use did it serve
but feed his own and bring about my doom?
'Twas not the Duke who yesterday conferred
the sentence but mine own iniquity.
BASSANIO In court I wondered at your sufferance,
a lamb resisting not the sacrifice.
SHYLOCK (off) The hour has come. Bring him out! Bare his breast! My knife awaits, the bond is due.
ANTONIO The hour has come indeed. Farewell, sweet friend,
Now comes eternal judgement.
I swear, in hands as foul to me as his.
See gifts I bring to offer liberty.
ANTONIO A gleaming blade, a dismal flask.
are death, oblivion, happy release
from worldly cares, the endless trudge towards
the yawning grave that welcomes all. Young babe,
proud youth, new married man, new married wife . . .
Come, choose. Whichever please thy present mood
the other falls to me, I care not which.
ANTONIO Thou wouldst die? What foolish reason hast thou?
Thou art young, thy unmark'd flesh o'erflows with strength.
Experience yet hidden from thine eyes
shall open arms to thee as modest maid
alone her husband greets on wedding night
her wonders greater far than those foreseen.
Two score long years, yet more, from now await.
Exchange them not for everlasting sleep.
BASSANIO I have no choice nor wish another course.
It matters not if my heart beats or eyes
this world observe or feet unthinking step
where once I danced with joy. My life must end
ANTONIO But why?
BASSANIO 'Twas I who brought thee here.
Three thousand ducats brought to me a wife -
The same three thousand ducats stole thy life
and hers. I bear the guilt of murder twice.
In honour's name I must repay the debt.
Do not persuade me alter purpose but
now choose thy fate and mine.
SHYLOCK (off) The hour, I say! The sun advances. Bring him out! The Christian's blood for my just bond!
ANTONIO 'Tis I the judge and jury of thy soul
and I pronounce thee innocent. Thy crime
is naught but reckless youth and all share guilt
who ever walked and breathed upon this earth.
And now 'tis time I face the Jew's just rage;
the knife that cuts my flesh will not be thine.
BASSANIO If I cannot divert thee from thy path
grant me, I beg, one final urgent boon.
ANTONIO In this cold cell what can I give to thee?
BASSANIO Thy forgiveness, a greater gift by far
than all the wealth the world might offer me.
ANTONIO Dearest Bassanio, dearest of men,
if I had ten lives to give, they were thine,
ten thousand golden ducats, they were thine,
the riches of Midas, Atlas' great strength,
Athena's wisdom, spices from the East,
the Doge's great palace, if all were mine,
to thee all would I cede. Forgiveness
is least and greatest of my gifts to thee.
BASSANIO Oh, sweetest words that soothe my troubled soul
and send it forth upon the waveless sea
towards eternal peace. Farewell, most kind
and generous of men.

BASSANIO drinks the poison

ANTONIO But hold! What madness is this? Guards! Guards!
BASSANIO They will not come. Two golden ducats keep
them absent from that door.
'Tis bitter to the taste, slides down my throat
as quick as wine, yet not to warm my heart
but swiftly still it.
ANTONIO Guards! My dearest love,
thou shouldst live! New wealth from Portia comes,
another day has dawned, life beckons thee
to walk the streets of Venice, breathe its air,
bid friends good day and strangers all good cheer.
BASSANIO No! Friends mean naught and strangers even less.
My gold and ducats baubles in my purse.
Without thy breath, without thy love, this world
must be a haunted room wherein thy ghost
no longer grants this mortal audience.
Each dawn new memory would bring of thy
cruel death, each night a cold and empty bed.
Belovèd friend, I go before to see
the world beyond. There will I wait for thee.


ANTONIO Oh foolish, ardent youth! Oh face so fair!
Such love and loyalty becomes thee more
than wealth or finery. Sometimes thy words,
thy looks and errant ways did trouble me.
Sometimes thy wand'ring heart was eas'ly lured
by gold that burden'd old man's purse or lay
in flowing waves on beautous maiden's brow.
Long nights alone I thought of thee, wished thee
a future brighter than my shallow past.
Now here thou liest quiet by my side
my dearest wish now granted at my death.
Would that this minute be a single day
and that one day a lifetime yet to come
and in that life eternity wherein
a god or mortal man his Ganymede
till end of time in silent awe behold.
Enough. I stand. Thy courage gives me strength
to meet the man whom I have sorely wronged.
The greatest love is life laid for a friend
Without his love is my life too at end.
SHYLOCK (off) My pound of flesh, my pound of Christian flesh!

Prologue           Scene One           Structure & Characters

Born in Dundee and growing up in Edinburgh, Martin Foreman spent many years living and working in London and on five continents. That international perspective is reflected in his fiction, particularly The Butterfly's Wing and First and Fiftieth.

Since 2011 he has focused on theatre, initially as an actor, more recently as a playwright and director. In 2012 he won the London Solo Festival New Writing Award and in 2018 the Pitlochry Festival Theatre Short Play Award. He currently lives in Perthshire but mostly directs and supports theatre in Edinburgh.

His playscripts and fiction are available from Amazon, ebay and Arbery Books.