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Merchant of Venice Commentary - Act I.

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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 170).

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's House.

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 future husband.

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 30-36)

(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 is due...

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 12-28).

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 (Lines 138-143).

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 of flesh.

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 (Lines 144-152).

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).

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