of Venice" Synopsis
1 - Venice and surroundings
Bassanio, a young Venetian of noble rank, wishes to woo the beautiful
and wealthy heiress Portia of Belmont. Having squandered his estate,
he needs 3,000 ducats to subsidize his expenditures as a suitor. Bassanio
approaches his friend Antonio, a wealthy merchant of Venice who has
previously and repeatedly bailed him out. Antonio agrees, but since
he is cash-poor - his ships and merchandise are busy at sea - he promises
to cover a bond if Bassanio can find a lender, so Bassanio turns to
the Jewish moneylender Shylock and names Antonio as the loan's guarantor.
Antonio has already made an enemy of Shylock through his outspoken anti-Semitism,
and also because Antonio's habit of lending money without interest forces
Shylock to charge lower rates. Shylock is at first reluctant to grant
the loan, citing abuse he has suffered at Antonio's hand, but finally
agrees to lend the sum to Antonio without interest upon one condition:
if Antonio is unable to repay it at the specified date, Shylock may
take a pound of Antonio's flesh. Bassanio does not want Antonio to accept
such a risky condition; Antonio is surprised by what he sees as the
moneylender's generosity (no "usance" - interest - is asked
for), and he signs the contract.
In Shylock's own household, Shylock's daughter Jessica schemes to elope
with Antonio's Christian friend Lorenzo. That night, the streets of
Venice fill up with revelers, and Jessica escapes with Lorenzo after
lowering herself from the roof of Shylock's house, along with much of
Shylock's wealth. Bassanio and his friend Gratiano leave for Belmont,
where Bassanio intends to win Portia's hand.
2 - Belmont garden
In Belmont, Portia is awash with suitors. Her father left a will stipulating
each of her suitors must choose correctly from one of three caskets
- one each of gold, silver and lead. If he picks the right casket, he
gets Portia. The first suitor, the luxurious Prince of Morocco, chooses
the gold casket, interpreting its slogan "Who chooseth me shall
gain what many men desire" as referring to Portia. The second suitor,
the conceited Prince of Arragon, chooses the silver casket, which proclaims
"Who chooseth me shall get as much as he deserves," imagining
himself to be full of merit. Both suitors leave empty-handed, having
rejected the lead casket because of the baseness of its material and
the uninviting nature of its slogan: "Who chooseth me must give
and hazard all he hath." The last suitor is Bassanio, whom Portia
wishes to succeed, having met him before. As Bassanio ponders his choice,
members of Portia's household sing a song which says that "fancy"
(not true love) is "engend'red in the eyes, With gazing fed"
prompting Bassanio to disregard "outward shows" and "ornament"
and choose the lead casket, winning Portia's hand. Portia and Bassanio
marry, as do Gratiano and Portia's handmaid Nerissa.
While at Belmont, Bassanio receives a letter telling him that Antonio
will be unable to return the loan taken from Shylock. Bassanio and Gratiano
explain the situation to Portia and Nerissa and then leave for Venice.
3 - Duke of Venice Courtroom
The climax of the play comes in the court of the Duke of Venice. Shylock
refuses Bassanio's offer of 6,000 ducats, twice the amount of the loan.
He demands his pound of flesh from Antonio. The Duke, wishing to save
Antonio but unable to nullify a contract, refers the case to a visitor
who introduces himself as Balthazar, a young male "doctor of the
law," bearing a letter of recommendation to the Duke from a learned
lawyer. The doctor is actually Portia in disguise, and the law clerk
who accompanies her is actually Nerissa, also in disguise. As Balthazar,
Portia repeatedly asks Shylock to show mercy in a famous speech, advising
him that mercy "is twice blest: It blesseth him that gives and
him that takes." However, Shylock adamantly refuses any compensations
and insists on the pound of flesh.
As the court grants Shylock his bond and Antonio prepares for Shylock's
knife, Portia deftly appropriates Shylock's argument for 'specific performance',
and points out that the contract only allows Shylock to remove the flesh,
not the "blood," of Antonio. Thus, if Shylock were to shed
any drop of Antonio's blood, his "lands and goods" would be
forfeited under Venetian laws. Further damning Shylock's case, she tells
him that he must cut precisely one pound of flesh, no more, no less;
she advises him that "if the scale do turn, but in the estimation
of a hair, thou diest and all thy goods are confiscate."
Defeated, Shylock concedes to accepting Bassanio's offer of money for
the defaulted bond, first his offer to pay "the bond thrice,"
which Portia rebuffs, telling him to take his bond, and then merely
the principal, which Portia also prevents him from doing on the ground
that he has already refused it "in the open court." She then
cites a law under which Shylock, as a Jew and therefore an "alien,"
having attempted to take the life of a citizen, has forfeited his property,
half to the government and half to Antonio, leaving his life at the
mercy of the Duke. The Duke immediately pardons Shylock's life. Antonio
asks for his share "in use" until Shylock's death, when the
principal will be given to Lorenzo and Jessica. At Antonio's request,
the Duke grants remission of the state's half of forfeiture, but on
the condition of Shylock converting to Christianity and bequeathing
his entire estate to Lorenzo and Jessica.
Bassanio does not recognize his disguised wife, but offers to give a
present to the supposed lawyer. First she declines, but after he insists,
Portia requests his ring and Antonio's gloves. Antonio parts with his
gloves without a second thought, but Bassanio gives the ring only after
much persuasion from Antonio, as earlier in the play he promised this
gift from his wife to never to lose, sell or give it. Nerissa, as the
lawyer's clerk, also succeeds in likewise retrieving her ring that she
gave earlier to Gratiano, who does not see through her disguise.
- Belmont and surroundings
The two women return to Belmont, where they find Lorenzo and Jessica
declaring their love to each other under the moonlight. When Bassanio
and Gratiano arrive the next day, their wives accuse them of faithlessly
giving their rings to other women. Before the deception goes too far,
however, Portia reveals that she was, in fact, the law clerk, and both
she and Nerissa reconcile with their husbands. Lorenzo and Jessica are
pleased to learn of their inheritance from Shylock, and the joyful news
arrives that Antonio's ships have in fact made it back safely. The group
celebrates its good fortune, leaving Antonio alone and once again, sad.