Merchant Of Venice Summary

William Shakespeare

Merchant Of Venice

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Merchant Of Venice Summary

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William Shakespeare’s tragedy-comedy The Merchant of Venice follows a group of Italian men and women who fall in love and combat the greed of a certain moneylender. Though written around 1596, its first recorded performance was for the court of King James I in 1605 (Queen Elizabeth, who applauded and financed most of Shakespeare’s plays, died in 1603). There have been five feature films in the US that retell the story of The Merchant of Venice, and countless other adaptations in literature, music, and visual arts.

The play opens on a Venetian street.Antonio, a successful merchant who lives in Venice, is thinking out loud to his two friends Salarino and Salanio. Antonio is distressed: he cannot articulate why he is so sad these days, but his friends suggests it is anxiety over his merchandise and his paltry lovelife.

They meet up with Lorenzo, Gratiano, and Bassanio, a young nobleman who will later ask Antonio for his fiscal help in wooing a young lady. They discuss dinner plans. Gratiano asks Antonio why he looks so down. Antonio says because the world is a stage, and everyone has to play a specific part, and his happens to be a sad one. Gratiano, sort of a clown, declares that he hopes to be a fool who drinks a lot for the rest of his days.

Meanwhile, Portia, an aristocratic lady in Venice, and Nerissa (her maid/good friend) talk about Portia’s possible matches for marriage. They consider a prince from Naples, the French Lord Monsieur Le Bon, a German Duke, and several more. Nerissa suggest Bassanio, describing him as a scholar and military man; Portia agrees that Bassanio is most worthy of a woman like her.

Because Antonio’s business ventures are so precarious, at the moment, he cannot offer Bassanio a loan. Consequently, Bassanio seeks out a loan from Shylock, a Jewish money-lender. Because of the Catholic Church’s rules on usury, Christians were not allowed to be moneylenders, so Jewish people tended to fill the role; their power causing deep resentment among the majority Christian population. Shylock agrees to lend 3,000 ducats(about $500,000 by contemporary USD standards) to Bassanio to be repaid in three months.

Antonio has agreed to be the guarantor; should Bassanio fail to repay the loan, Antonio will agree to have one of his hands cut off. Shylock hopes that Bassanio will not be able to repay the loan so that he can ruin Antonio, who not only has been anti-Semitic toward him, but also has been known to loan money to people in Venice without charging interest (which was acceptable for Christians to do; they just could not charge interest).Antonio’s generosity has lowered the high fees that Shylock would prefer to charge.

At Belmont, a small suburb of Venice where Portia lives, Portia and Nerissa discuss the terms of her late father’s will. Whoever marries her must answer several riddles. The only man who is able to do this is Bassanio. At the same time, the jokester Gratiano proposes to Nerissa, who accepts.

Complicating everything,Bassanio and Antonio’s mutual friend Lorenzo has fallen in love with Jessica, Shylock’s daughter, and the two elope into the countryside.

At the news, Shylock grows irate. His only happiness is the news that Antonio’s merchant fleet is currently lost at sea, and he will probably be unable to pay him back his loan on time. Shylock looks forward to extracting the harshest revenge possible. Shylock eventually has enough evidence to arrest Antonio, which he does.

Jessica and Lorenzo flee to Belmont. At the same time, Bassanio learns that Antonio has landed in jail. Though Bassanio and Gratiano are about to be married to Portia and Nerissa, they decide that they must leave immediately for Venice to help their friend. Nerissa and Portia seemingly agree to wait for them at Belmont, but they secretly disguise themselves as men and travel to Venice.

Act 4 opens with Antonio and Shylock in the court of the Duke of Venice. Shylock asks for execution of the contract, but the Duke hesitates, even though he knows there is no legal way out of this quandary.

Portia and Nerissa enter the court, disguised as a lawyer and paralegal. They hear both sides’ case, and Balthazar(Portia) initially rules in Shylock’s favor. But before an overjoyed Shylock can sever any part of Antonio, Balthazar points out that the contract does not stipulate that he may draw any blood from Antonio. Additionally, he has admitted to acting on his foul intention of harming another Venetian citizen, a criminal offense.

The court decides to punish Shylock for his ploys,choosing to usurp half of Shylock’s properties and force him to convert to Christianity.

Balthazar then asks Bassanio for a ring. The ring was a present she gave to Bassanio back in Belmont to symbolize their union. He had promised to never part with it, and when Balthazar demands it as payment for her judicial services, Bassanio refuses, causing Balthazar to stomp away from the court in superficial outrage.Secretly, she is delighted; this loyalty only confirms that the two are meant to be together. But Antonio soon convinces Bassanio (and Gratiano) to hand over their promise rings to the legal team. With great reluctance, Bassanio and Gratiano hand over their rings to a messenger.

The ladies remove their disguises and return to Belmont. When they are greeted by their fiancés, they each ask for evidence of the promise ring. When neither can show the ring, the females cry scandal.Before the men become too emotionally distraught, Portia reveals their tricks in Venice. She also happens to have a letter from Antonio’s fleet: all of his ships have safely returned to Venice with all of his merchandise in store.

The play ends with the lovers and Antonio celebrating at Portia’s Belmont mansion.