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
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,"
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.