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Where does the phrase "pound of flesh" come from?
15-07-2012, 11:12 AM
Post: #1

Where does the phrase "pound of flesh" come from?

This phrase, meaning exactly what is due, owes its popular origin to Shakespeare.

In Shakespeare's comedy, The Merchant of Venice, the rapacious moneylender, Shylock, bears a grudge against the nobleman Antonio. So, when Antonio is forced to borrow money from Shylock, the latter craftily inserts a clause that if the loan is not repaid on the appointed day, he will have to give him a pound of his own flesh as the forfeit. Taking it as a joke, Antonio agrees to the terms. However, when he is unable to clear his dues in time, Shylock drags him to the court, demanding his pound of flesh. However, Shylock is in for a shock. In the court, Antonio's advocate, Portia, turns the tables on Shylock by pointing out that the agreement referred only to a pound of flesh, but not to a single drop of blood. Since it would clearly be impossible to take his flesh without letting a single drop of blood fall, Shylock's case collapses.

While Shakespeare certainly popularised the term, he actually found it in an Italian short story from a collection written in the late 15th century and published in Milan in 1558.
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