The Merchant of Venice

The Merchant of Venice

by William Shakespeare

The Merchant of Venice Summary

In Short

  • The play “The Merchant of Venice” opens with Antonio, a Venetian merchant. He feels sad, though he does not know the cause of his sadness. His friends enquire the cause of his sadness.
  • Bassanio, a Venetian young man as well as Antonio’s friend needs 3000 ducats to court Portia, an heiress of Belmont. But Bassanio has no money. So, he wants the help of his dearest friend Antonio.
  • At this moment Antonio has no money in hand, so he advises Bassanio to lend money from some lender and mention his name as a guarantor.
  • Both Antonio and Bassanio go to Shylock, a Jewish money lender who holds some grudge against Antonio. Shylock lends them 3000 ducats and makes a legal bond on which Antonio has to sign. As per the bond, if Antonio fails to pay the ducats in time, Shylock will be entitled to take one-pound flesh from Antonio’s body.
  • In Belmont Portia is feeling worried because of his father’s will. According to the will, one who chooses the right casket among the three (gold, silver and lead) will win Portia as his wife.
  • The Prince of Morocco and The Prince of Arragon fail in the test. Bassanio selects the right casket (lead casket) and wins Portia’s hand.
  • At this juncture, information arrives from Venice that Antonio’s business ships in the sea are in trouble and he is unable to pay the loan of Shylock. So, according to the bond Shylock will take a pound of flesh from his body.
  • In order to save the life of his friend, Bassanio goes to Shylock with 6000 ducats (double the loan amount). But Shylock wants revenge against Antonio for his previous insults. So, he does not agree to take the money from Bassanio.
  • The matter reaches the Venetian court. Portia and Nerissa (Portia’s attendant) save Antonio’s life in disguise as lawyer and his clerk. At first Portia requests Shylock to show mercy. Shylock is rigid with his bond. Then she mentions that Shylock can take only one pound of Antonio’s flesh without causing Antonio to bleed. Trapped by this logic Shylock agrees to take Bassanio’s money, but he is denied.
  • Portia also informs Shylock that as per Venetian law he must hand over half of his property to the state and other half to Antonio as a punishment of conspiring against the life of a Venetian citizen.
  • The Duke spares Shylock and takes a small fine instead of his property. Antonio also forgoes Shylock’s wealth on two conditions. First, Shylock must convert to Christianity, and second, he must will his property to Lorenzo and Jessica (Shylock’s daughter) upon his death. Shylock agrees with Antonio’s condition. Finally, good news arrives from Venice that Antonio’s ships have come back safely.

The Merchant of Venice: Plot Summary

Antonio, a merchant of Venice, is a rich, respected and famous man. He shares his sadness to his friends. The reason is unknown to him though. On the other hand, his dearest friend Bassanio, a Venetian young man needs money to go to Belmont to court Portia, the beautiful heiress of Belmont. But Bassnio has no money. So, he wants to the take help of his friend Antonio. Bassanio already owes Antonio a good deal of money. He wants to repay the money. But he is unable to do so. But at this time Antonio has invested all his money in his merchant ships. So, he suggests Bassanio to lend money from a money lender. He will however be the guarantor of this loan.

At Belmont Portia is somewhat unhappy with his father’s will. According to the will, she cannot choose her own husband. She would have to marry the man who chooses the correct casket of the three (gold, silver and lead casket). One of the caskets contains Portia’s portrait and it is the lucky one. Portia has no liking for any of her suitors. Nerissa mentions the name of Bassanio, a possible suitor. Portia is pleased because Bassanio was once a visitor to Belmont and she was impressed with him.

Bassanio and Antonio go to Shylock, a Jewish money lender who takes high interest for loan. Shylock has a grudge against Antonio because Antonio does not take interest for loan. Apart from that, Antonio is a Christian and belittles Shylock in front of others.

However, Shylock agrees to provide 3000 ducats as a loan. But he makes a legal bond in which Antonio has to sign. In the bond Shylock mentions that he will take one-pound flesh from Antonio’s body instead of money if Antonio fails to pay the loan within the given time. Antonio thinks it as a funny game and signs the bond.

Launcelot, a quick-witted young fellow and a servant to Shylock, is unhappy with his evil master. He finally discards shylock’s household and starts working for Bassanio.

At Belmont Portia welcomes the prince of Morocco to choose the casket. He selects the gold casket, a wrong choice. This casket bears the inscription, “who chooseth me shall gain what many men desire” (ii.vii). Gold is a symbol of greedy, materialistic and shallow people who value surface over substance.

Then it is the turn of the prince of Arragon who chooses the silver casket which says, “Who chooseth me shall get as much as he deserves” (ii.vii). The silver casket symbolizes the greedy people who want to go for gold but falling short. The prince of Arragon also fails to choose the right casket.

At last, Bassanio wins Portia by choosing the lead casket. This casket warns “who chooseth me must give and hazard all he hath”. It is plain on the outside, but it holds an inner treasure. This casket holds a portrait of Portia. Both Portia and Bassanio are overjoyed. They make plans to get married at once along with Nerissa and Gratiano who have also fallen in love. They change their engagement rings and promise that they will not give those rings to anyone else.

In the meantime, Lorenzo, a friend of Bassanio and Antonio, falls in love with Jessica, Shylock’s daughter. He plans to elope with her by disguising her as a boy. Jessica takes a good amount of her father’s money with them and they come to Belmont.

At this juncture, news arrives from Venice that Antonio’s ships have been drowned in the sea. He is now bankrupt and unable to pay the loan of Shylock within the deadline. So according to the bond, Shylock must take one pound of his flesh. Bassanio and Gratiano go to Shylock with 6000 ducats, double the loan amount to save the life of their friend. Shylock denies to take the money from Bassanio. He remains inflexible to his decision. Meanwhile, Portia plans to go to Venice with Nerissa, disguised as men, to save the life of Antonio.

A trial takes place at the court of the Duke of Venice. The Duke announces that he seeks for a legal advice from the lawyer Balthazar who he believes can solve the problem. Portia (disguised as a man) plays the role of a lawyer sent by Balthazar as he was unable to come. And Nerissa works as the lawyer’s assistant.

Portia tries hard to convince Shylock to show Marcy but Shylock insists on the bond. Portia examines the bond and realizes that it is legal. She declares that Shylock is entitled to Antonio’s flesh but he must do so without causing Antonio to bleed as the bond does not entitle him to any blood. She also warns Shylock that he must take only one pound of flesh, not more or less than exact one pound. Trapped by Portia’s logic, Shylock now agrees to take the money previously offered by Bassanio.

But Portia insists that Shylock is guilty of conspiring against the life of a Venetian citizen. So, as a punishment he must hand over half of his property to the state and the other half to Antonio. The Duke spares Shylock’s life and take a fine instead of his property. Antonio also forgoes half of Shylock’s property on two conditions, first, Shylock must convert to Christianity and second, he must will his entire property to Lorenzo and Jessica upon his death. Shylock agrees and takes his leave.

Bassanio and Gratiano are impressed with the wisdom of the lawyer and his clerk (Portia and Nerissa). Their actual identity is unknown to them. They thank them and eventually give their engagement rings as fees.

In Belmont Lorenzo and Jessica declares their love. Returning to Belmont, Bassanio and Graziano have to face their wives. Their wives accuse them of giving their engagement rings to other women. Finally, Portia reveals the truth about their disguise. Lorenzo and Jessica are also pleased to hear Shylock’s changed behaviour. The group of the couples are enjoying a happy moment and good news arrives from Venice that Antonio’s ships are returning safely.

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