Antonio, a Venetian merchant, complains to his friends, Salarino and Solanio, that a sadness has overtaken him and dulled his faculties, although he is at a loss to explain why. Salarino and Solanio suggest that his sadness must be due to his commercial investments, for Antonio has dispatched several trade ships to various ports. Salarino says it is impossible for Antonio not to feel sad at the thought of the perilous ocean sinking his entire investment, but Antonio assures his friends that his business ventures do not depend on the safe passage of any one ship. Solanio then declares that Antonio must be in love, but Antonio dismisses the suggestion.
The three men encounter Bassanio, Antonio’s kinsman, walking with two friends named Lorenzo and Gratiano. Salarino and Solanio bid Antonio farewell and depart. When Gratiano notices Antonio’s unhappiness and suggests that the merchant worries too much about business, Antonio responds that he is but a player on a stage, destined to play a sad part. Gratiano warns Antonio against becoming the type of man who affects a solemn demeanor in order to gain a wise reputation, then he takes his leave with Lorenzo. Bassanio jokes that Gratiano has terribly little to say, claiming that his friend’s wise remarks prove as elusive as “two grains of wheat hid in two bushels of chaff” (I.i.115–116). Antonio asks Bassanio to tell him about the clandestine love that Bassanio is harboring. In reply, Bassanio admits that although he already owes Antonio a substantial sum of money from his earlier, more extravagant days, he has fallen in love with Portia, a rich heiress from Belmont, and hopes to win her heart by holding his own with her other wealthy and powerful suitors. In order to woo Portia, however, Bassanio says he needs to borrow more money from Antonio. Antonio replies that he cannot give Bassanio another loan, as all his money is tied up in his present business ventures, but offers to guarantee any loan