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Merchant of Venice Commentary - Act V.

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Act V. Scene I. - Belmont. The Avenue to Portia's House.

Portia: "I'll not deny him anything I have; No, not my body, nor my husband's bed."

Portia and Nerissa arrive back at Belmont before Bassanio, Antonio, Gratiano and their followers, all whom are unaware that it was Portia and Nerissa who defended them in Venice. Nerissa and then Portia scold their husbands for giving away their wedding rings, an important symbol of their love and fidelity to their two wives. Much comedy ensues as the two men attempt to make excuses for this. Portia ends Bassanio's and Gratiano's suffering by producing a letter which explains their role in Venice. The two men are embarrassed that they could not even recognize their own wives...

Lorenzo and Jessica exchange sweet nothings. Stephano, a messenger arrives, bidding news that Portia will soon be back at Belmont.

Portia and Nerissa arrive at Belmont and shortly after, arrive Bassanio, Antonio, Gratiano and their followers. Bassanio introduces his friend Antonio to his wife, Portia. He describes him as a man, "To whom I am so infinitely bound" (Line 134). Portia replies that "You should in all sense be much bound to him, / For as I hear, he was much bound for you" (Line 136).

We hear Gratiano pleading with his wife that he gave his ring to the "judge's clerk:" (Line 143). Nerissa replies that "You swore to me, when I did give it to you, / That you would wear it till your honour of death," (Line 152).

She does not believe Gratiano's excuse, fearing it now belongs to another women, cheekily adding since that clerk was her, that "The clerk will ne'er [never] wear hair on's a face that had it." Given that the clerk was of course Nerissa, this statement is both comedic and ironic in nature.

Portia now takes Nerissa's side and Bassanio in an aside (a speech sharing his innermost thoughts with the audience but not other characters) thinks up an excuse: "Why I were best to cut my left hand off, / And swear I lost the ring defending it" (Line 177).

Gratiano drops Bassanio into the mess, telling everyone that Bassanio gave his ring to the judge "that begg'd it," adding that the clerk (Nerissa in disguise) demanded his ring too (Lines 180-183).

Portia asks Bassanio if this is true. Sheepishly, he confirms it. He tries to defend himself with little success (Lines 192-221).

Portia tells him that as holder of her ring, should the judge ever come by her house she will not deny him anything she has (Lines 224-233), including, ominously for Bassanio, her body: "I'll not deny him [the holder of the ring] anything I have; / No, not my body, nor my husband's bed" (Lines 227-228), warning Bassanio to never let her out of his sight.

Bassanio, now quite scared of losing his wife forever, pleads that he will never again break an oath again to his wife: "Pardon this fault, and by my soul I swear I never more will break an oath with thee [you]" (Line 247). Greatly disturbed by all this, Antonio nobly steps in offering his soul upon forfeit should his friend break his promise.

Satisfied, Portia gives Antonio her ring telling him to make sure Bassanio takes better care of it this time. Bassanio is amazed to see the same ring. Portia teasing Bassanio says, "by this ring, the doctor lay with me" (lay meaning made love), (Line 259).

Nerissa adds that the doctor's clerk lay with her. Gratiano is not impressed (Line 265). To clear the air and end the two men's torment, Portia produces a letter.

It explains her role in the court case (Lines 266-279). Antonio is dumbstruck, "I am dumb" he says and the two husbands are left to ponder the fact that they could not even recognize their own wives.

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