Unit 1: Shakespeare Speaks
the episodes

Select a unit

  1. 1 Shakespeare Speaks
  2. 2 Shakespeare Speaks - the extras

Session 17

King James needs to stay awake during this performance of The Merchant of Venice to find out why Shylock is talking about a pound of flesh. We'll explore the origin and modern day usage of a pound of flesh - and bring you some great expressions for talking about revenge.

Session 17 score

0 / 15

  • 0 / 4
    Activity 1
  • 0 / 6
    Activity 2
  • 0 / 5
    Activity 3

Activity 3

Revenge is sweet!

Revenge is sweet!
So, when someone wants their pound of flesh, they are seeking revenge, not justice. Shakespeare often explored the human desire to get revenge, and the theme of revenge appears in several of his plays.

We hope that you don't need to get revenge for anything at the moment, but if you do, these expressions for talking about getting revenge might be useful...

To do

Listen to six short clips of people talking about revenge. Do the speakers think that revenge is a good idea or a bad idea?

Do the activity

Show transcript Hide transcript

1) I can’t believe you told everyone that it was my fault! I’ll get my own back one day.

2) "I’m so furious, because of him I’ve lost my job and my house, and..."
    "Well, don’t get mad, get even"

3) I'll get my revenge one day - you know what they say, revenge is a dish best served cold!

4) They always cheat when they play us and now it’s payback time - we're not going to play fair any more!

5) I made him wait for me in the rain for hours! Revenge is sweet.

6) I think you should just forgive and forget. There's no point going over everything - move on!

All of the speakers think that revenge is a good idea, except the last one. He says that it's better to forgive and forget.

To do

Now look at the transcript and pay attention to the phrases in bold - they are all related to revenge. But what do the phrases mean? Try the quiz to find out.

Revenge is ______?

5 Questions

Read carefully the meaning of the revenge phrase in the question box. Then choose which option contains the correct phrase.

Congratulations you completed the Quiz
Excellent! Great job! Bad luck! You scored:
x / y

Well done if you worked out the meaning of all these phrases - maybe you can use one the next time you need to get your own back!

Over to you

We asked you to tell us about your feelings about revenge. Which of the speakers in the audio clips do you agree with? Do you think that revenge is sweet or is it better to forgive and forget? And have you ever done something to get your own back?

Here's what you told us:

Maan, UAE

For many people, anger cause lack of insight so  it seem that revenge is sweet .and he/she has to get his/her own back. But a person who is conscious perceives that is not truth , Life is short and beautiful ,so do not lose it seeking revenge and  waiting  payback time . To forgive and forget is better .

Those who believe  that ( revenge is a dish best served cold ) are suffering from a serious mental illness. They need a treatment.
 Nilson Mandella is my hero , my example.


Jean Marie

I am the sort who forgive and forget. Why? Organising a revenge is wasting time which could be used for more positive tasks.

On the other hand, considering that revenge is dish better served cold, I let destiny do its own work and, as a spectator, enjoy, sometimes, how revenge is sweet. 

Some years ago, two friends of mine bought secretly the car I dreamed of. Knowing my dream, they boasted and teased me for three months, till I decided, openly, to order the same roadster. I got my own back, but not on purpose, even if it was payback time! When the superb car arrived my friends discovered something I really did not know: in just 3-month time the carmaker had designed a new model, so superior indeed that my very disappointed friends had to change theirs and lost money as if they were taken a pound of flesh. I just smiled in front of them, realising their frustation,  Really, what a sweet revenge.



If someone does something bad to you ..
When such thing happens you're facing three probable choices of behavior.. 
First you may forget, not so quick maybe .. and that would just release you of the guilt of facing the other two choices left  .. Forgiveness helps you much more than helping who you're forgiving .. it's never easy to accept that you can get back and still don't .. only noble hearts might do that .. and it reflects positively on you .. revenge is sweet but forgiveness for who has tried it, is even sweeter ..
Second you may get back what had been taken of you .. or hurt someone the same way you got hurt ..  causing a same degree of pain or loss .. well, it is, I think, the normal person's behavior .. not so highly perfect,nor so down low ..
Third .. Getting your pound of flesh ..
Well, that's a kind of illness I guess .. 
For me If I couldn't behave as the first I would never do the third .. ever ..


Ia, Georgia

         There  are  times   when  the  mistake  is   made   without  realizing  it,  but  another  case  is  when something  horrible  happens  on  purpose. So  to  revenge , or  not  to  revenge : this  is  the  question.

My  feeling   about  it ? Once I   met   the   person   who   was  attacked   by   the   green-eyed   monster.  ” If   only  I  could  get  my  own  back !  Revenge  is  so  sweet ! “ . And  it  was  hard  to  believe   her   from   her  appearance.

But  what   about   things   done   on   purpose?   They   might   call   you   mad   if   you  do  not  do anything.  However,   there  is  a  method  in  my ( calm)  madness,  you  have already  known. I  try  hard  to  do  all  my  best   to  turn  it  into  something  valuable. So   forget  about  the  sweetness  of  revenge . What  you  need  is  to  change  it  better. This  is  why  I  appreciate   my  enemies  so  much and  forgive  them  and  forget . I  heard  from  some people  that  they   would  be  nothing   in   life  without   their   enemies  . It   seems  that  everyone  has  her  or  his  role…And  I  agree  with  the  last speaker  ...  It  is  much  more  reasonable …

And  have  I  ever  done  anything  to  get  my  own  back?   Yes,   I   have. I   was   little  then  and  I have  already  known  from  my  past  experience  that   I   always  feel   blue  after   revenge  - --I  am  not  myself , I  can’t   stand   myself…  Think  about   God …what   did  Jesus   do  against  his  enemies ?  And   who     am   I  after  all? I  make   lot’s  of  mistakes  as  a  human  being,  aren’t  I  ?   I   don’t    want anyone   to   take   his  or  her  pound  of  flesh.  There  are  so  many  ways   to  solve  problems  without  a  single  drop  of  blood . After    that  , forgive  and   forget .  End   your  fast  properly  . Happy    Easter!



When it comes to human nature, I believe, people will find that revenge is sweet and everyone wants to get its payback when treated unfairly.

Yet the principle from Jesus,<Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.> shall not be ignored by human beings.It's acknowledged that we hurt not only other people but also ourselves if we seek justice demanding a pound of flesh.

As a result, a better solution is to forgive and forget, because that way,you will heap burning coals on his head.



I am basically forgive and forget kind of person but there are times where taking revenge is sweet.

Again waiting for the revenge to serve as cold might cause you to become obsessed about it and can make you mentally sick.


Didier, Cameroon 

I really enjoyed today's lesson that's why I am writing to give you my point of view about revenge. Some say revenge is sweet but I don't agree because personally speaking, I always feel sadder after getting my own back on someone. I don't know why. Maybe because revenge doesn't give me something special like an award or something and also I don't like hurting people. I'd rather forgive and forget than wasting my time trying to get my own back.


J K Poovazhagan

Greetings. I read long before that a man stabbed another man.The wounded was treated and healed, The man who stabbed did escap scot free but suffered ill health like Blood Pressure and Diabetes life long. Revenge is for the moment but forgiveness brings good long term results.


Tomoki, Japan

In my opinion it is better to forgive and forget because then people can spend more time doing something which makes them happy. People who think revenge is sweet have to pay attention to other people they get even with until they get their own back. This reduces time they spend enjoyable things. Consequently, overall, it is possible that revenge torment not only those who are revenged but also those who want t revenge themselves. Thus, I have never done anything to get my own back.

End of session

That’s all for now. But don't worry - we'll be back again soon. In the meantime there are plenty more episodes for you to enjoy. Learn how to use phrases like, The green-eyed monster, As dead as a doornail, What's done is done and many more.

Return to these pages to find out more about William Shakespeare's life and work - and to learn a useful new English expression. Don't forget to go to our Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram pages for more fun with English!

Session Vocabulary

  • For more great Shakespeare content visit our partner,The OU


    A pound of flesh

    Modern English speakers use the phrase a pound of flesh when someone says they want justice, but the punishment they're asking for is so severe that it seems more like revenge. 

    Example sentence
    I apologised and paid for the repairs after I crashed his car, but it isn't enough for him. He wants his pound of flesh. I think he's going to call the police…

    In modern day usage, we can also use a pound of flesh to talk about something which is owed, but will be hurtful or difficult to provide.

    Example sentence
    My boss is making me work so hard at the moment, he really wants his pound of flesh.


    Extra vocabulary

    give something to someone with the understanding that it will be returned

    receive something from someone with the understanding that you will return it

    the soft part of the human body

    something that you do to hurt or punish someone because they have hurt you or someone else

    ​fairness in the way ​people are ​dealt with

    seek revenge
    plan to take revenge

    a formal, legal meeting where decisions are made about a crime

    revenge is a dish best served cold
    it's more satisfying to wait until the time is right to get revenge

    don't get mad, get even
    get revenge instead of getting angry about something

    get your own back
    get revenge

    it's payback time
    it's time to get revenge

    revenge is sweet
    it feels good to get revenge

    forgive and forget
    don't try to get revenge: forget about people's mistakes and move on

    price-fix scandal
    an agreement between companies to keep prices high

    About Shakespeare Speaks

    Shakespeare Speaks is a co-production between:

    BBC Learning English

    The Open University


    More Shakespeare Speaks episodes

    Shakespeare Speaks Podcasts