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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 enterprises. Antonio's friend Bassanio owes Antonio money but unable to pay his debts, asks Antonio for more money so he may marry the wealthy Portia and so pay back his friend. Antonio has no money 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. 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). He suspects she 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 will 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 will choose 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 fondly, Bassanio...

Within a room in Portia's house at Belmont, a tired Portia laments her situation, "By my troth, Nerissa, my little body is aweary [tired] of this great world" (Lines 1-2). She is also 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 devised in these three chests of gold, silver, and lead, whereof who chooses his meaning chooses you, will, no doubt, never be chosen by any rightly one 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 will 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 dislikes them all. So far none have taken up the challenge for Portia. To lose is to agree never to marry, nor ever see Portia again. She remembers, Bassanio 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 named Shylock. Shylock hates Antonio and has little love for Bassanio. Antonio tells Shylock to make the terms of the loan those he would give any enemy.

Feigning friendship towards Antonio he agrees to lend the money. 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. Antonio is not worried, "My ships come home a month before the day" (Line 183).

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