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The Merchant of Venice (an overview)
Transcript of The Merchant of Venice (an overview)
In Belmont, one of Portia's suitors has come to pay court. The Prince of Morocco urges Portia not to hold his dark complexion against him and she reminds him that if he chooses the wrong casket, he may never propose to another woman again....
Antonio is a rich merchant who lives in Venice. When the play begins, he is having a discussion with two of his friends about how he feels sad but he isn't sure why.
"In sooth, I know not why I am so sad:
It wearies me; you say it wearies you; But how I caught it, found it, or came by it,
What stuff 'tis made of, whereof it is born,
I am to learn;
And such a want-wit sadness makes of me,
That I have much ado to know myself. "
When Bassanio arrives, he asks Antonio (his best-friend) if he can borrow some money because he is SERIOUSLY in love with a girl named Portia and he wants to court her.
Portia lives in a place called Belmont and has inherited a large sum of money because her father just died. Many men are courting her but there's a catch...
Portia is unable to choose her own husband because of the terms of her father's will. The will states that the suitor who chooses the correct casket (with Portia's portrait inside) must become her husband. Anyone who fails the test must take an oath never to marry.
In Venice, Bassanio asks Shylock if he will lend money to Antonio. Shylock reveals that he hates Antonio because he treats him badly and lends money interest free (Antonio has spat on Shylock in public & now wants to borrow money from him!) Antonio says he would spit on Shylock again and doesn't feel bad about it. Shylock offers to lend the money to Antonio
interest free. (with one catch - if the money is not repaid in 3 months, Shylock says he will claim a pound of Antonio's flesh!)
Of course, Antonio doesn't worry
about this and takes
the deal! (His ships with all their profits will be back in Venice long before payment is due!)
Back in Venice, Shylock's servant, Launcelot Gobbo decides to leave Shylock and work for Bassanio. As they leave for Belmont, Gratiano asks if he can come too. Bassiano agrees but only if Gratiano behaves in a more gentlemanly like fashion than he usually does.
Shylock's beautiful daughter Jessica says goodbye to Launcelot and asks him to secretly deliver a letter to Lorenzo (who is staying with Bassanio). Jessica reveals that she is ashamed to be Shylock's daughter but she would marry Lorenzo and become a Christian if he keeps his promise to her.
Act 2 Scene 3
Lorenzo, Gratiano, Salerio and Solanio are making plans for their going away party. Gobbo brings Lorenzo the letter and Lorenzo tells Gratiano that Jessica is ready to escape (with gold and jewels) but she will be disguised as a boy.
They leave to get Jessica.
Act 2 Scene 4
Act 2 Scene 5
Launcelot (now Bassanio's servant) delivers an invitation to the going away party to Shylock. When Shylock hears about the party, he orders Jessica to shut all the doors and windows and not to participate. Shylock says he is happy that Gobbo left because he was lazy and greedy.
Jessica prepares to run away with Lorenzo.
Gratiano and Salerio (dressed in their costumes) are waiting for Lorenzo outside Shylock's house. Lorenzo arrives and Jessica (dressed in boy's clothing) appears on the balcony above them. She throws down a casket of money and they make their escape. Antonio enters and tells Gratiano that they will set sail for Belmont immediately.
Act 2 Scene 6
In Belmont, The Prince of Morocco is choosing the casket for Portia's hand in marriage. He decides it must be in the gold casket as only gold is good enough for a 'saintly' lady. His choice is wrong (it contains a skull and a scroll) and the note inside warns the reader not to be deceived by appearances. The Prince of Morocco leaves.
Act 2 Scene 7
Act 2 Scene 8
When Shylock discovers that Jessica has eloped with Lorenzo, he orders that the ship be searched - unfortunately the ship has already left for Belmont. Antonio assures the Duke that the lovers are not on the ship. (Jessica and Lorenzo do follow Bassanio to Belmont at a later stage) Solanio describes Shylock's rage and despair at finding both his daughter and his money gone and warns that Antonio better keep his bond to Shylock.
He also adds that he heard that a Venetian ship sank in the channel and he hopes that it isn't one of Antonio's!
The Prince of Arragon is now choosing his casket. He dismisses the lead casket as being too ugly and also refuses the gold casket saying only a common man would assume that was the one. he chooses the silver casket but finds only the picture of a fool inside. A young Venetian is announced to be the next young man to try his luck. Nerissa hopes that this is Bassanio.
Act 2 Scene 9
Salerio and Solanio are discussing the loss of one of Antonio's ships. Shylock enters and accuses them of knowing about Jessica's elopement and begins to gloat about Antonio's bad luck and says he had better keep his bond or Shylock will have a pound of Antonio's flesh. Shylock describes how he has suffered because of Antonio's racism and reminds them that he is as human as a Christian. Shylock hears that Jessica is spending his money freely and he moves between anger and delight about further misfortunes that have befallen Antonio's ships.
Bassanio arrives at Portia's house in Belmont and she begs him to delay the choosing of a casket but he tells her it will kill him to wait. Bassanio takes his time choosing a casket and does not allow himself to be deceived by outward appearances, as Morocco and Arragon were.
He finally chooses the lead casket and finds Portia's portrait inside and they exchange rings and vows of loyalty and love.
Gratiano and Nerissa now make their love known and announce that they will marry.
Act 3 Scene 2
Lorenzo and Jessica arrive from Venice with bad news of Antonio's ships. They have all been lost at sea and Shylock is seeking his payment (a pound of flesh!) Bassanio and Gratiano leave for Venice to see Antonio. (A very bizarre first day of marriage for them both!)
Antonio has been arrested in Venice and pleads with Shylock to release him from the terms of the bond. Shylock is pitiless and refuses to be kind. Antonio understands that he made the deal and so must pay the price or the reputation of fair trade and fair dealings with Venice will be affected. He hopes that Bassanio will come and see him before he dies.
Act 3 Scene 3
A discussion about friendship is taking place in Belmont. Portia says she isn't upset that Bassanio left her so soon after getting
married as he is showing true
friendship to Antonio. She
asks Lorenzo and Jessica to
look after her house while
she and Nerissa go into a
convent until Bassanio and
Gratiano return from Venice.
(they aren't really going to
a convent - they are going
to Venice disguised as
young lawyers in
order to defend
Act 3 Scene 4
Act 3 Scene 5
Launcelot and Jessica are joking together in Portia's house in Belmont. Launcelot says jokingly that there is no hope for Jessica because Shylock is her father. Jessica says she has now become a Christian by her marriage to Lorenzo. Lorenzo enters.
After Launcelot leaves, Lorenzo remarks on the nonsensical way in which Launcelot uses and misuses words. Jessica describes Portia as being a 'joy of heaven' and says there is no other woman on earth like her.
This act is only
2 scenes but
it is the
climax of the play!
The Duke of Venice expresses pity for Antonio but can't do anything about it.
Shylock enters and the Duke pleads with him to show mercy to Antonio but Shylock won't budge.
Bassanio offers to pay Shylock 3 times
the value of the original loan but Shylock refuses and demands justice! Shylock begins to sharpen his
knife to cut off a pound of Antonio's flesh when
Portia & Nerissa (disguised as lawyers)
enter the courtroom.
Antonio stands to face his punishment for failing to repay his bond to Shylock.
ACT 4 SCENE 1
Portia asks if the scales to weigh the pound of flesh are ready and a doctor is at hand to look after Antonio's wound. Shylock states that this is not
part of the bond. Antonio gives a touching
farewell speech to Bassanio.
With the Duke's permission, Portia will hear the
case and interpret the law. Portia asks Shylock to be
merciful and Shylock ignores her plea. Portia
examines the bond and finds it to be legally binding.
Shylock is delighted with the judgement of the young
lawyer and prepares to exact his dreadful penalty.
ACT 4 SCENE 1
ACT 4 SCENE 1
Shylock tries to back out and says he will accept Bassanio's offer of 3 times the amount of the bond but Portia insists on strict justice, just as Shylock has done.
Shylock wants to abandon all claims but when he tries to leave, Portia finds him guilty of having plotted against the life of a Venetian citizen. (this carries a very heavy penalty!)
They spare Shylock's life and make him promise to
give Lorenzo and Jessica half of his estate as a gift
with he dies. They also insist that Shylock
become a Christian.
ACT 4 SCENE 1
After Shylock and the Duke have left the courtroom, Bassanio offers to reward Portia for saving Antonio's life. She asks only for the ring (the one she gave him before he left for Venice). He says he values it too much as his wife gave it to him. However, after Portia leaves, Bassanio (at Antionio's urging) sends Gratiano to give Portia the ring....
In Venice, Gratiano catches up to Portia and Nerissa (still in disguise) and gives Portia the ring she asked for. Nerissa takes Portia aside and tells her that she will now try to get a different ring from Gratiano. She asks Gratiano to take her to Shylock's house for he has to sign the deed.
ACT 4 SCENE 2
Portia points out that the bond only allows Shylock a pound of flesh and nothing else, not so much as a drop of blood.
ACT 4 SCENE 1
Now she turns the tables on Shylock. She insists on justice and if one drop of blood is spilled as he cuts into Antonio's chest, all his lands and goods will be confiscated by the state of Venice.
this is the last act of the play and it takes place in Portia's garden in Belmont.
Lorenzo and Jessica are sitting watching the stars in Portia's garden. A messenger enters and tells them that Portia and Nerissa will be home shortly. Launcelot also enters to announce that Bassanio will be home shortly. After this disruption, the lovers go back to enjoying the beauty of the evening.
Portia and Nerissa arrive home and tells everyone not to say a word to Bassanio about she and Nerissa being away from home. Bassanio and Gratiano enter with Antonio and Bassanio introduces Portia to Antonio.
A quarrel breaks out between Nerissa and Gratiano because she finds out that Gratiano has given away the ring she gave him. Portia finds out that Bassanio has given away her ring -
the ring he promised to
keep forever as a symbol
of their love. The men
explain that they gave
away their rings as a fee
to the Lawyer and his clerk
who saved Antonio's life.
Portia and Nerissa pretend to be furious and say they will be unfaithful to them but they finally reveal that it was them (disguised as men) that Bassanio and Gratiano had given the rings to!
Portia gives Antonio a letter which tells him that three of his ships have come home safely to harbour! Antonio is overjoyed!! Nerissa gives
Lorenzo and Jessica the
deed which will
grant them all of
when he dies. The
play ends as they all
go into the house in a
happy and festive mood.