Plot Summary / The Story-line
This scene starts at Belmont. After Bassanio’s departure Lorenzo comments on the friendship between Antonio and Bassanio so that Portia can understand the worth of their Friendship. Portia realises that her husband’s friend is not less worthy than her husband. So she wants to save Antonio’s life at any cost.
Portia declares that she and Nerissa will live a life of “prayer and contemplation” in a monastery two miles away until their lovers return. She hands over the charge of her house to Lorenzo and Jessica.
Portia sends Balthazar (her servant) to Padua to meet Dr. Bellario (Portia’s cousin as well as a law specialist) who will give some documents and cloths. From there Balthazar will go to Venice where Portia will meet her. After Balthazar’s departure Portia tells Nerissa that they will disguise as men and will meet their husbands. Nerissa asks the reason of it. Portia promises that she will reveal the whole fact later.
Commentary on Act III, Scene 4
This scene presents the concept of love and friendship like other Elizabethan plays. Friendship was as precious as love to the Elizabethan people. So, Antonio is not less worthy than Bassanio to Portia.
After some tragic flow of the previous scene Shakespeare reminds that it is a comedy. Here he prepares us for the arrival of Portia in Venice. Portia’s idea of cross-dressing and her plan to talk and act like a teenage boy adds to the fun and humour.
Portia and Nerissa’s disguise reminds us of Jessica’s disguise earlier in the play and also of the typical cross-dressing in Elizabethan stage where men played the roles of female characters too.
Previously we have seen Portia as a romantic heroine but now we see her as a smart woman who starts acting against Shylock in some way. But the audience is still unsure what exactly Portia is planning. But when she sends Balthazar to Bellario, the lawyer, we get a hint that she is planning to help Antonio legally. Thus, we are prepared for the court scene.