The Merchant of Venice
Plot Summary

Act 1

Antonio says he is not worried about business matters. He has invested his money in several ships. That is much safer than relying on one. Antonio asks Bassanio whom he loves. Bassanio begins by explaining his plans to pay off his debts. Antonio is ready to help Bassanio, whatever the circumstances. Bassanio explains that he wishes to marry Portia, a wealthy heiress. Rich and famous men from all over the world come to woo her. Antonio's cash is tied up in his ships, but he allows Bassanio to borrow money on his behalf. In Belmont Portia complains that her dead father's will prevents her from choosing her own husband.

Nerissa recaps the will: potential husbands must choose between three caskets of gold, silver and lead. Whoever chooses correctly wins Portia. Nerissa describes the suitors. In Venice, Bassanio tries to borrow money from Shylock.

Shylock lends Bassanio the money, but tells the audience that he hates Antonio and will harm him if he can! Shylock will not charge Antonio interest on the loan, but if Antonio fails to pay on time, Shylock will take a pound of his flesh.

Act 2

The Prince of Morocco arrives to try to win Portia's hand in marriage. Lancelot Gobbo (Shylock's servant) decides to leave Shylock's service. Instead, he plans to enter the service of Bassanio. Jessica (Shylock's daughter) gives Launcelot a letter to give to her lover Lorenzo (one of Bassanio's friends).

Jessica, ashamed of being Shylock's daughter, plans to marry Lorenzo and become a Christian. In Jessica's letter, Lorenzo reads how she will disguise herself as a boy, steal some of her father's gold and jewels, and escape.

Shylock intends to dine with Bassanio, and leaves Jesscia in the house alone. Lorenzo arrives, and he and Jessica elope.

The Prince of Morocco chooses the gold casket and finds a skull and dismissive message. He goes home!

Bassanio sails to Belmont to try to win Portia's hand in marriage. Shylock realises that his daughter has robbed him and run away. He promises to have revenge.

The Prince of Arragon chooses the silver casket and finds the portrait of a "blinking idiot" rather than Portia. He leaves.

Act 3

The audience hear that a number of Antonio's ships are wrecked. Shylock wishes Jessica was dead, and hires an officer to arrest Antonio because he won't be able to pay back the money.

Portia and Bassanio spend time together before he chooses the casket. She wants him to take his time choosing and offers to give him hints on the right one to choose. However, Bassanio is impatient. Bassanio rejects the gold and silver caskets because their grand appearances may be misleading. He chooses the lead casket and finds a picture of Portia and a scroll. Portia gives Bassanio a ring. Gratiano asks if he can marry Nerissa.

Bassanio receives a letter from Antonio explaining the bad news about his ships. Portia offers to pay the debt to Shylock, plus interest. Shylock guards Antonio closely. Antonio is resigned to death, because he knows Shylock hates him.

Portia and Nerissa decide to dress up as men to help their men out (who have travelled back to Venice to rescue Antonio).

Act 4

In Court: Antonio is being tried for not paying his debt to Shylock. The Duke sympathises with Antonio and expects Shylock to show mercy. Shylock refuses. Bassanio offers to pay the debt in full. Shylock says that he wants the pound in flesh due to him in law. He sharpens his knife.

Portia and Nerissa arrive as Doctor Balthazar and a legal expert. They agree with Shylock that he must have his pound of flesh. Antonio prepares to die, and tells Bassanio how great a friend he has been. Portia announces that Shylock can have his pound of flesh as long as he doesn't shed blood, which is against the law! Shylock is defeated. Also Portia explains that if a foreigner plots to kill a Venetian, the punishment by law is the confiscation of all of his wealth and possible execution. Antonio requests partial mercy fro Shylock: he can keep half of his wealth; Antonio will invest the rest. Bassanio tries to pay Portia, but she requests his ring. He will not part with it. Antonio persuades Bassanio to give Portia the ring. Nerissa tries to trick her husband too by doing the same thing.

Act 5

Portia and Nerissa return to Belmont, agreeing to keep quiet about their involvement in the trial. Bassanio and Gratiano return. Portia and Nerissa go mad with their partners for giving away their rings. Bassanio begs Portia to forgive him, and explains why he parted with the ring. She returns the ring to him and teases him. Portia reveals the truth about their role in the court case. Three of Antonio's ships have been saved. Shylock leaves Lorenzo and Jessica all of his possessions.


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