Topics: The Merchant of Venice, Shylock, Portia Pages: 17 (7252 words) Published: July 15, 2013
The Merchant of Venice: Plot Summary
Act I
The first act opens in a street in Venice, where Antonio, a wealthy middle-aged merchant, talking to two acquaintances, wonders why he feels vaguely sad and apprehensive. When his friends suggest that, having many vessels at sea exposed to all the winds that blow, he necessarily is anxious, he denies it, as he does also being in love. Before the cause of this strange melancholy is discovered, Bassanio joins this group with two companions, who talk and laugh and appoint a meeting at dinner, although Antonio seems disinclined for festivities. Still, as he has remarked that everyman has some part to play in the world, one of the speakers, Gratiano, expresses a preference for the role of fool, mirth and laughter being more desirable than melancholy. Left alone with Bassanio, Antonio comments on the nonsense just uttered, before inquiring with whom his friend has fallen in love. In reply Bassanio states that, although enamoured of a beautiful lady, he cannot sue for her hand, because he has squandered his fortune, and is deeply in debt to Antonio and others. Instead of reproaching him, Antonio generously consents to make another loan, which Bassanio accepts in hopes of making all good when he has won Portia, the lady of Belmont, with whom he has found favour, although she is besieged with suitors. Because all his funds are at present at sea, Antonio decides to use his credit to borrow the necessary sum for his friend's use. We are next transported to Portia's dwelling, where she is expressing great weariness of the world to Nerissa, her companion, who slyly suggests her mistress is suffering from superfluity, rather than from any other complaint. She supports the good advice she gives with- maxims, which Portia scorns or caps, ere she attributes her troubles to her father's lottery, which leaves her no choice in regard to her future husband. This father, however, was wise and virtuous, as Nerissa maintains, and his lottery scheme shrewd, for he decreed that Portia's suitors should select among three chests one of gold, one of silver, and one of lead that containing her portrait, or forfeit her hand. Many suitors have already come, whom Nerissa names w-hile Portia pithily describes them, vowing she feels little inclination for the horsey Neapolitan, the melancholy German, the fickle Frenchman, the dumb Englishman, the niggardly Scotchman, or the drunken Saxon, who have come to woo. She therefore feels no regret when told that these suitors, dreading the test, are about to depart, and joyfully exclaims, 'I dote on their very absence!' Then Nerissa states that no suitor ever seemed so attractive as the Venetian Bassanio, who visited them in her father's lifetime, a man whom Portia charily admits was worthy of praise. Their conversation is interrupted by the announcement that the strangers wish to take leave, and that a Moroccan prince has just arrived to undergo the casket test. After expressing great readiness to speed the parting guests, Portia idly wonders whether the newcomer will prove a bolder, or more acceptable suitor than his predecessors. We now behold a public square in Venice, where Bassanio is asking the money-lending Jew, Shylock, to loan Antonio three thousand ducats for three months. Gravely repeating each statement, Shylock thoughtfully remarks Antonio is a good man, although his funds, at present invested in fleets, seem in jeopardy. After some hesitation, he asks to confer with Antonio in person, so Bassanio invites him to dine with them both, an invitation the Jew scorns, fearing viands {their food} unclean. He therefore retorts in surly tones, 'I will buy with you, sell with you, talk with you, walk with you, and so following, but I will not eat with you, drink with you, nor pray with you.' They are about to separate, when Antonio appears; whereupon Shylock mutters he hates him for being a Christian, and for lending money without interest, whereby sundry...
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