Plot Summary / The Story-line
At Belmont Lorenzo and Jessica are sitting outside and enjoying the night. They compare their love story to the stories of “Troilus and Cressida”, “Pyramus and Thisbe”, “Dido and Aeneus”. They prolong the analogy to their own love story. They are interrupted by Portia’s servant Stephano who informs them that Portia is coming home with Nerissa. Then Launcelot comes to inform that Bassanio will also come back by the morning. Lorenzo and Jessica then come into the house and listen to music.
Portia and Nerissa wear their normal dress. Returning home, they enter the building. Lorenzo identifies Portia’s voice and comes out to welcome them. Portia orders the servants to keep it a secret to Bassanio when he comes that she and Nerissa went outside the house. She instructs Lorenzo and Jessica to do the same.
Bassanio and Gratiano return with Antonio. Nerissa tells Graziano to show his engagement ring. But he cannot show because he gave it away to the lawyer’s clerk in Venice. They start debating on it. From Gratiano Portia comes to know that Bassanio too gave away his ring to the lawyer. Portia and Nerissa then accuse their husbands for giving away their rings to other women. They tell that they would like to sleep with the young lawyer and his clerk rather than their disloyal husbands.
Bassanio and Graziano maintain that they did not give the rings to women, but men. After some more fun Portia and Nerissa eventually clear the air. Portia reveals that she and Nerissa were disguised as the lawyer and his clerk. They give the rings back and ask Bassanio and Gratiano never to part with the rings again in future.
Portia also informs that three of Antonio’s ships have returned safely. Nerissa hands over Shylock’s “deed of gift” to Lorenzo. Graziano promises that he would not take off Nerissa’s ring until his death and the play ends.
Commentary on Act V, Scene 1
This closing scene of “The Merchant of Venice” provides a happy ending to the play. Antonio gets back his ships. All the lovers are united. Shylock, the villain is punished and converted, leaving him absolutely harmless now. Lorenzo and Jessica inherit Shylock’s property.
It is one of the most entertaining scenes in the play. A dramatic irony is created when every character other than Portia and Nerissa are unaware of the fact that they had been to Venice disguised as the lawyer and his clerk and took the rings from their husbands. But the audience is aware of all this and so find the arguments, which otherwise seem serious, funny and enjoyable.
Here Lorenzo and Jessica compare their love with three famous love stories. It is a great irony that all the love stories they remember ended up in failures.
Though the ring trick was mainly to get some fun and surprise their husbands, Portia and Nerissa try to give a lesson to Bassanio and Gratiano about the value of mutual trust and respect in a relationship. Her speech “I’ll have that doctor for my bedfellow” indicates that Bassanio needs to realize the ring is given to him alone. But he gives it away and it interrupts their relationship as well as the marriage contract.
We find a contrast between Belmont and Venice. While Belmont represents music, leisure and comfort, Venice represents money and laws. Portia and Nerissa are presented to be smarter than their male counterparts once more in this scene.
Though the play delivers a happy ending, both Antonio and Shylock remain as outsiders. Though Antonio is actually present in the scene, his presence is hardly felt. On the other hand, Shylock loses his religion, property and his daughter. However, “The Merchant of Venice” still remains one of Shakespeare’s most famous romantic comedies.