The Merchant of Venice

The Merchant of Venice

by William Shakespeare

The Merchant of Venice – Act I Scene 1 Summary

Plot Summary / The Story-line

Act I Scene 1 of the play “The Merchant of Venice” starts on a street of Venice. In the opening of the play Antonio confesses to his friends Salarino (Salerino) and Solanio (Salanio) that he feels very sad. But the reason is unknown to him. Salarino suggests with Salanio that the cause of his sadness is probably the safety of his ships, which may be affected by storms and attacked by pirates. Antonio denies this and insists that he’s confident his ships are safe. Then Salarino guesses that probably he is in love, that’s why he is in a pensive mood. But Antonio denies that too. Salerino explains the cause of Antonio’s sadness. He says if Antonio is sad neither for his ships nor for love then he is naturally sad, “sad because [he] is not merry” (act-I scene –I lines-47-48). He also advises Antonio to take off his bad mood and to be happy.

At this time their friends Bassanio, Lorenzo and Graziano (Gratiano) join them and after exchanging courtesies Salerino and Salanio excuse themselves. Lorenzo carefully observes his old friend Antonio and feels that Antonio is unwell. He rebukes his friend for being sad. Antonio replies that the world is a stage and he plays the role of a sad man. Gratiano says that he himself never has “mood”. He is always determined to play the role of a “fool”. Lorenzo says that sometimes Gratiano is too much the fool. Then he and Gratiano depart and promise that they will meet the others at dinner.

Now Bassanio assures Antonio not to worry about Gratiano’s critical remarks. Antonio abruptly changes the subject matter. He wants to know about the lady to whom Bassanio has sworn. Bassanio bypasses the topic and rather talks about the money he already owes to Antonio. Bassanio promises that he will repay all his debts –

To you Antonio, I owe the most in
Money and in love, and from your
Love I have a warranty to unburden
All my plots and purposes how to
Get clear of all the debts I owe.

Then Bassanio informs that he is in love with Portia, the beautiful heiress of Belmont. But he needs more money to maintain his rank like her other wealthy suitors. He wants to win Portia as his wife. So, he needs another loan from Antonio. Antonio says that at this moment he is unable to provide Bassanio with the money because he has invested all his money on his ships. Antonio suggests Bassanio to take a loan from a moneylender instead and he will be the guarantor of this loan.

Commentary on Act I, Scene 1

In this scene of “The Merchant of Venice” we are introduced to a group of wealthy merchants. They are not worried about their money invested in their business. Not only do they deal with business but also have the responsibility to uplift their friend’s mood. The unknown reason of Antonio’s sadness creates a mystery around his character.

This mystery demands that the other characters interpret what’s wrong with him. Salerino says that Antonio’s mood is simply a whim which can be changed by changing perspective. Antonio says that the world is a stage and he has to play the role of a sad person. It indicates that there is a mysterious aspect of his personality.

Gratiano’s crass jokes reveal that he is less sensitive despite the fact that he is a noble Venetian. Both Salerino and Solanio represent an element of youthful whimsy.

Bassanio needs money to woo Portia. This matter makes a connection between love and money. Bassanio already owes Antonio’s money and it indicates his extravagant nature beyond his capacity and also that he wants to use his friend for material purpose. Bassanio’s motive creates a contrast with pure devotion and generosity of Antonio’s friendship. Here Antonio helps Bassanio selflessly. For this reason, many critics comment that Antonio is actually in love with Bassanio.

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