Merchant of Venice Summary provides a quick review
of the play's plot including every important action
in the play. Merchant of Venice Summary is divided by
the five acts of the play and makes an ideal introduction
before reading the original text.
The play famous for the expression "a pound of flesh"
and the lines, "If you prick us, do we not bleed? if
you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison us, do
we not die? and if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?"
begins in Venice with Antonio a wealthy merchant who
is not happy since he is worried about his business
enterprises, namely his ships at sea which could be
at peril from rough seas or pirates.
Antonio's friend Bassanio owes Antonio money but unable
to repay his debts, asks Antonio for more money so he
may marry the wealthy and beautiful Portia and so pay
back his friend. Antonio has no money to spare but tells
Bassanio to use his good name to try to get a loan...
Meanwhile Portia laments that she has yet to find her
special someone. She famously complains about the faults
of all her past suitors and her late father's will which
chooses her husband for her. Portia's father's will
chooses Portia's husband 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 quite fondly, Bassanio...
Bassanio gets his loan of three thousand ducats from
a Jewish merchant named Shylock. The price for not repaying
the debt 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 is due...
The Prince of Morocco is willing to take the challenge
set by Portia's father for Portia's hand in
Meanwhile, Launcelot Gobbo, Shylock's servant has a
problem; he hates his boss. Bassanio arrives and after
some conversation, Launcelot becomes Bassanio's new
servant. Jessica, Shylock's daughter plans to elope
with Lorenzo against her father's wishes, were
he to know. Jessica reveals her shame for her father.
Lorenzo explains to his friends Gratiano, Lorenzo,
Salarino and Salanio, how they will help him help Jessica
run away from her father.
Launcelot, Shylock's former servant delivers to
Lorenzo a letter from Jessica explaining that Jessica
will be waiting at her house for Lorenzo and friends
and that she has taken some of her father's jewels
and gold as well. The letter also explains that Jessica
will be disguised as a boy to aid her escape...
Shylock bumps into Launcelot, learning that Bassanio's
party which he will reluctantly be attending, will be
a masque (masked ball). Shylock tells his daughter Jessica
to stay at home and to do her best to ignore the Christian
revelries, which Shylock despises.
Jessica escapes from her father's house to live
a new life as a Christian and as the wife of Lorenzo.
Jessica is embarrassed to be dressed as a boy. The masque
(masked ball) is canceled and Lorenzo and Jessica are
to sail with Bassanio instead of attending the masque...
The Moroccan Prince undergoes the three-casket challenge
for Portia's hand in marriage, choosing the gold
casket and losing. Salarino and Salanio comment that
a ship has recently floundered, hoping it is not one
of Antonio's. We learn that Lorenzo and Jessica
escaped successfully from Shylock who was too late to
prevent his daughter's escape. Shylock is furious
at having lost his daughter, his gold and his precious
jewels to a Christian and knows that Antonio was partially
involved and swears revenge...
At Belmont, another suitor has arrived, The Prince
of Arragon. Not blinded by the inscription on the gold
casket which bears the phrase, "Who chooseth [chooses]
me shall gain what many men desire" he instead chooses
the silver casket which bears the inscription, "Who
chooseth [chooses] me shall get as much as he deserves."
Opening the silver casket, he finds a "portrait
of a blinking idiot" mocking him and presenting a schedule
or letter to him which he reads and realizing he has
lost, goes home in failure.
Shylock makes it clear that he no longer wants repayment
of Bassanio's debt of three thousand ducats. He
would prefer his pound of flesh from Antonio instead
since he now sees Antonio as the source of all his miseries
and reaffirms his desire to make Antonio pay for this...
Bassanio arrives to court Portia who is reluctant to
never see Bassanio again should he fail the casket challenge.
Bassanio takes the challenge, choosing correctly. Bassanio
will marry Portia and it is revealed that Gratiano,
Bassanio's friend, has fallen in love with Nerissa,
Portia's maid and so another marriage will also occur.
We learn from Salanio that Antonio has forfeited his
debt to Shylock and now stands to lose a pound of his
flesh and with it his life for helping Bassanio. Portia
enthusiastically offers to pay Shylock Bassanio's debt
Antonio pleads to let him pay back Bassanio's debt
but Shylock wants Antonio's pound of flesh and therefore
his death instead...
Portia and Nerissa leave Belmont on a secret mission
to save Antonio, disguising themselves as men. In a
garden at Portia's house, Launcelot believes Jessica
to be damned telling her to "hope that your father got
you not, that you are not the Jew's daughter." Jessica
replies that, "I shall be saved by my husband; he hath
made me a Christian." Lorenzo arrives, engaging Launcelot
in witty banter.
The Duke of Venice attempts to convince Shylock to
let Antonio pay back Bassanio's debt. Shylock refuses,
threatening the Duke that if he ignores their agreement,
Venice will lose its credibility as a place for merchants...
Portia, now disguised as a man, defends Antonio, winning
his life, through the technicality defense that Shylock
can take only a pound of flesh and no more, a clearly
impossible task. Furthermore she argues that Shylock
has conspired to murder, an offense that is punishable
by asset confiscation and death. A compromise whereby
Shylock must become Christian and give half his assets
to Jessica when he dies is reached. Portia ensures that
Shylock will sign a deed making the verdict binding.
Gratiano meets Portia and gives her Bassanio's ring.
Nerissa tells Portia she too will get the ring of her
husband. Portia resigns herself to making both men regret
their rash action.
Portia and Nerissa arrive back at Belmont before Bassanio,
Antonio, Gratiano and their followers, all of 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...