Merchant of Venice Commentary provides a comprehensive
description of every act with explanations and translations
for all important quotes.
Act I. Scene I. - Venice. A Street.
Antonio a wealthy merchant is not happy since he
is worried about his business enterprises. Antonio's
friend Bassanio owes Antonio money but unable to pay
back his debts, asks Antonio for yet more money so he
can marry the wealthy Portia and so pay back his friend.
Antonio has no money to spare but tells Bassanio to
use his name to try to get a loan...
The play begins with the picture of one depressed Antonio.
Antonio is a wealthy "Merchant of Venice" but he is
not happy. His friends Salarino and Salanio suggest
he is worried about his ventures or business enterprises.
Antonio's wealth comes from the ships he owns and
Salarino comments that Antonio is worried for his ships
which could easily be at peril from storms or pirates.
One of Antonio's friends is Bassanio. Bassanio has
a problem; he still owes Antonio a great deal of money
and wants to pay it back to his friend. He has a plan.
If Antonio lends him still more money, he will pursue
the very beautiful and wealthy Lady Portia whose "sunny
locks / Hang on her temples like a golden fleece;" (Line
Bassanio suspects Portia likes him and says, "sometimes
from her eyes I did receive fair speechless messages:"
(Lines 164-165). Her hand in marriage will give Bassanio
the money he needs to pay back Antonio.
Antonio agrees, but he has no money; all his wealth
is tied up at sea in his ships. He will however help,
urging Bassanio to look for moneylenders, adding that
his good name should help... "Try what my credit can
in Venice do:" Antonio urges (Line 181).
Act I. Scene II. - Belmont. A Room in
Portia: "I remember him well, and I remember him worthy
of thy praise."
Portia laments that she has yet to find her special
someone. She famously complains about the faults of
all her past suitors and her father's will which chooses
her husband for her.
Portia's father's will chooses Portia's husband
for her by means of three caskets, one gold, one silver
and one lead. A suitor must choose one of the
three caskets, a picture of Portia being contained in
the correct casket.
When a suitor chooses a casket, he makes his worthiness
to Portia clear, this devise ensuring that only the
right man for Portia will marry his daughter. Though
Portia does not like any of her past suitors, she does
however, remember one man fondly, Bassanio...
Within a room in Portia's house at Belmont, a tired
and weary Portia laments her situation, "By my troth,
Nerissa [Portia's Waiting-maid], my little body is aweary
[tired] of this great world" (Lines 1-2). Portia is
tired of her continuous stream of suitors, mocking each
in comedic fashion. Nor is she happy about her father's
will denying her the right to choose for herself her
Nerissa tells Portia that her father was wise:
Your father was ever virtuous, and holy men
at their death have good inspirations; therefore, the
lottery that he hath [has] devised in these three chests
of gold, silver, and lead, whereof [whereby] who chooses
his meaning chooses you, will, no doubt, never be chosen
by any rightly but one who you shall rightly love. (Lines
(Your father was ever virtuous and holy men near their
deaths often have good inspirations. Thus the lottery
your father has devised whereby a man must choose between
three caskets, one gold, one silver and one lead, each
proving his true desire, will no doubt ensure that the
man you will marry will be the one who you will rightly
love), (Lines 30-36).
Of her "Neapolitan prince", the "County
Palatine", "The French lord, Monsieur Le Bon",
a young English baron (Falconbridge), "the Scottish
lord," and the "young German, the Duke of Saxony's
nephew", Portia disliked them all. Though Portia
does not like her late father's casket challenge, she
is unwilling to disobey her father's last will (Lines
95-104). So far none of the suitors described have taken
up the challenge for Portia (Lines 106-113). To lose,
we later learn, is to agree never to marry, nor ever
to see Portia again. Portia does remember Bassanio,
"A Venetian, a scholar and a soldier," fondly
however: "I remember him well, and I remember him worthy
of thy [my] praise" (Line 130).
Act I. Scene III. - Venice. A public Place.
Bassanio gets his loan of three thousand ducats
from a Jewish moneylender named Shylock. The price for
not paying the debt back is high, namely a pound of
flesh from Antonio, but Antonio is not worried. His
ships (and wealth) come back a month before the debt
Back in Venice, Bassanio secures his three thousand
ducats from a rich Jewish moneylender named Shylock.
Shylock is reluctant to have Antonio secure the loan
since Shylock explains Antonio's ships and wealth are
at sea on his ships and are at risk from pirates and
"the peril of waters, winds, and rocks" (Lines
Shylock when asked to dine with Antonio, significantly
refuses, explaining that while he will do business with
Antonio, walk, buy, sell and talk with him, he will
not drink, dine or pray (Shylock is Jewish, Antonio
is Christian) with him (Lines 32-40).
Shylock hates Antonio intensely and has little love
for Bassanio. Shylock in particular resents Antonio
for being "Christian;" (Line 43), for lending
money without charging interest which lowers the interest
rate in Venice that Shylock can lend money out on, for
hating Shylock's "sacred nation," (Line 49)
and for criticizing Shylock for charging interest on
loans which Shylock considers to be good business.
Shylock has not yet decided if he will charge interest
noting that Antonio has always pledged neither to lend
nor borrow money with interest and tells the story of
Jacob and his flock of sheep. Antonio insults Shylock
by asking if interest was charged (Line 76).
Shylock calculates the interest he will charge but
does not name a figure (Lines 104-108), noting how Antonio
now asks for money from a man Shylock considers was
seen as a "dog" in Antonio's eyes (Lines 108-138).
Antonio tells Shylock to make the terms of the loan
those he would give to an enemy (Line 136).
Feigning friendship now towards Antonio, Shylock agrees
to lend the money without interest to prove his sincerity
However there is a catch; if Bassanio does not repay
the debt within the specified two months, Shylock who
hates Antonio can by agreement, cut from him a pound
Bassanio does not like this but Antonio assures him
that when his ships return he expects a "return
[profit] / Of thrice three times the value of this bond
[three thousand ducats]" (Line 160).
Shylock notes that a pound of flesh is not nearly as
valuable as "flesh of muttons, beefs, or goats"
(Line 168), adding that he makes this offer in friendship
Emphasizing that Shylock is not serious about the pound
of flesh, Shylock urges Antonio and Bassanio to meet
with him at the "notary's; [an official]"
to inform this man of "this merry [silly humorous]
bond," after which Shylock promises to deliver
the ducats immediately.
Bassanio, suspicious of the "merry bond,"
does not like his friend taking such a risk for him
but Antonio is not worried since as he says, "My ships
come home a month before the day" (my ships and wealth
return a month before the debt is due), (Line 183).