Summary of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice

A Jew by the name of Shylock lived in Venice. He had become very rich by lending money at huge rates of interest to Christian Merchants. Shylock was a hard hearted man and he was hated for his cruelty by all good men.

Antonio, a Christian and young merchant of Venice, hated him immensely.Shylock hated Antonio because Antonio used to lend money to people in their times of need and he did not charge any interest. Antonio would insult and attack Shylock wherever he met Shylock. Shylock would listen to these insult with great calm. He waited for an opportunity to have his revenge on Antonio.

Antonio was a kind man and he was loved by the citizens of Venice.Bassanio, a Venetian, was his best friend. Bassanio had a small property, but he had spent away all his money by leading a life of luxury Antonio would often help Bassanio with money whenever he needed it. One day Bassanio told Antonio that he was in love with a lady whom he wished to marry. The lady’ s father had died and had left her a large property. When the lady’s father was alive, Bassanio would visit her at her house. Bassanio therefore, requested Antonio to lend him three thousand ducats so that he could appear as a rich suitor before the lady.

Antonio had no money with him when Bassanio came to him. Antonio was expecting ships to return with goods for sale. So he went with Bassanio to Shylock in order to borrow money. Antonio told the Jew to give him three thousand ducats on interest till the ships returned from sea. Shylock had all along been looking for an opportunity to have his revenge on Antonio. Antonio had insulted Shylock a number of times and called him a “dog”.

Shylock told Antonio that he would forgive him and, be friends with him. He offered to lend Antonio money without charging any interest. Antonio was very surprised at Shylock’s of fer . As an after thought, Shylock told Antonio that the should accompany him (Shylock) to a lawyer and sign a bond that if he did not repay the money by a certain day, Shylock could cut off a pound of flesh from any part of Antonio’s body. Antonio agreed to sign the bond.Bassanio asked Antonio not to sign the bond. But Antonio was sure that his ships would come much before the day of payment, and he would be able to return the money borrowed from Shylock Antonio signed the bond as desired by Shylock. Bassanio received three thousand ducats. The rich lady whom Bassanio wished to marry lived near Venice, at a place called Belmont. Her name was Portia. She was a graceful and charming lady. Bassanio set off for Belmont, with a number of servants and a gentleman named Gratiano in attendance. Portia’s dead father in his will had laid down some rules for Portia’s marriage. There were three caskets – one of gold, one of silver and one of lead. In one of these caskets, Portia’s portrait was kept. The person who chose the correct casket could marry Portia. Portia’s suitors (the Duke of Morocco and the Duke of Arragon) failed to choose the correct casket.Bassanio chose the correct casket and Portia agreed to marry him.

Bassanio told Portia that he had little money. He came from a good and noble family. Portia told him that she loved him, she had a lot of money, and Bassanio was not to worry about money. She gave him a ring and Bassanio vowed never to part with it.

Nerissa, Portia’s maid, and Gratiano fell in love with each other at about the same time when Bassanio and Portia were to get married. Both Portia and Bassanio agreed to the marriage of Nerissa and Gratiano. The happiness of these two couples was short lived. A messenger came from Antonio and he brought the news that Antonio’s ships were destroyed in a storm. The last day to make the payment of three thousand ducats (borrowed by Antonio from Shylock for Bassanio) went by. The Jew, Shylock, wanted a pound of flesh as per the bond. Antonio wished to see Bassanio before Antonio’s death.

Bassanio told Portia about the money Antonio had borrowed for him. The debt could not be paid as Antonio had lost his ships. As desired by Shylock,Antonio had signed a bond requiring a pound of flesh to be cut off from Antonio’s body. Portia, wise lady that she was, immediately married Bassanio,so that Bassanio could have a right to her money by law. Portia told Bassanio to take gold worth twenty times the loan amount and asked him to rush to Venice. Gratiano and Nerrisa also got married. Bassanio and Gratiano set out for Venice, and on arrival they found that Antonio was in prison. The day of payment being past, the Jew would not accept the money which Bassanio offered him. The Jew said he must have a pound of Antonio’s flesh. A day was fixed for trial before the Duke of Venice.

When Bassanio left for Venice, Portia began to think how she could rescue her husband’s friend Antonio. She decided to go to Venice and speak in Antonio’s defence.

Portia knew a lawyer. To this gentleman, whose name was Bellario, she wrote asking for advice. She requested him to lend her the dress worn by a lawyer.When the messenger returned, he brought from Ballario letters of advice and also every thing necessary for her journey.

Portia dressed herself and her maid Nerissa in men’s clothes. Portia wore the dress of a lawyer and she and Nerissa set out immediately for Venice. They arrived in Venice on the day of the trial. The case was just going to be heard before the Duke and counsellors of Venice in the court-house. Portia entered the court room and gave the Duke a letter from Bellario, which said that he would have come himself to speak for Antonio, but he (Bellario) was not well and could not come. Therefore, he had sent his friend, Balthsar, a learned young doctor, to speak in Antonio’s defense. (Balthasar is the name by which Portia is called in this trial scene). The duke granted permission to this young stranger who was dressed in a lawyer’s dress.

Now began the important trial-on the side was the Jew, merciless in his demand for a pound of flesh, and on the other stood Bassanio and Antonio.Portia’s husband Bassanio could not recognize Portia, and she noted that her husband appeared to be in great distress regarding the outcome of the trial.Her husband was worried for Antonio.

Portia addressed herself to Shylock and told him that by the laws of Venice he could get what was promised in the bond. But she told Shylock to show mercy and very sweetly she said that we all pray to God for mercy. Mercy was a quality of God himself. When justice is mixed with mercy one can feel the closeness of God’s power. But Shylock refused to show mercy and wanted what was promised in the bond. When Portia asked whether Antonio was unable to pay the money, Bassanio replied that he was willing to pay more than the promised amount. But Shylock wanted only a pound of Antonio’s flesh. Bassanio pleaded with the lawyer to twist the law a little to save Antonio’s life. But Portia replied that the law could not change. Shylock on hearing this statement thought that the lawyer was speaking in his favour and he began to praise the lawyer for his wisdom.

Portia asked Shylock to let her look at the bond.. She read it and again asked the Jew to show mercy, to take the money and tear the bond. But the Jew was adamant. Portia then told Antonio to prepare himself for the event.Shylock began sharpening a knife. In his parting speech Antonio bade farewell to Bassanio and told him not to feel sorry for him (Antonio) and to commend him to his (Bassanio) wife. Bassanio, in great sorrow, replied that he would part with everything he had (his life, his wife, and things that he valued in this world) and give them all to Shylock in order to save Antonio’s life. On hearing this Portia told Bassanio that had Bassanio’s wife been present she would not have thanked him for his offer (remember that Bassanio had failed to recognize Portia who was dressed as a lawyer).

Gratiano who loved to copy his lord then observed that he too had a wife and he wished that she were in heaven so that she could beg to God to make the cruel Jew change his mind. On hearing this Nerissa remarked that if his wife had heard this observation of Gratiano’s there would have been trouble at his home.

After having sharpened his knife Shylock demanded that he be allowed to cut a pound of flesh. Portia asked him if he had the scales ready to weigh the flesh and if he had a doctor with him also. Shylock replied that he did not bring a doctor as it was not stated in the bond. Portia then told him to cut a pound of flesh. As the Jew asked Antonio to prepare himself, Portia decided to look at the bond again. She told the Jew that he could cut a pound of flesh but the bound did not sanction the spilling of blood. The Jew could not spill one single drop of blood if he did spill even a drop of blood then the Jew’s lands and all his goods would be taken over by the state of Venice. Thus the Jew could not shed Christian blood.

Now it was quite impossible for Shylock to cut off the pound of flesh without spilling some of Antonio’s blood. Thus Portia’s wise words that it was flesh not blood that was named in the bond, saved the life of Antonio. In the court-room everyone began to admire the wisdom of the young lawyer. Gratianosaid that a wise and upright judge was there. Shylock, found himself defeated and decided to take the money Bassanio had earlier offered. But Portia stopped Bassanio from giving the money saying that Shylock by the laws of Venice could only cut a pound of flesh – neither more nor less. Shylock once again demanded the money from Bassanio, but Portia stopped Bassanio again.Portia told Shylock that all his wealth would go to the State of Venice because Shylock had made a plot against the life of one of its citizens. She told the Jew that his life was at the mercy of the Duke and he was Shylock was required to go down on his knees and ask the duke’s pardon. The Duke told Shylock that he granted him (Shylock) pardon even before the latter requested for it. But the Duke told Shylock that half of his wealth would go to Antonio and the other half to the State. Antonio of course declined to take Shylock’s wealth. He said that Shylock should rather sign a bond and give this wealth to his (Shylock’s) daughter and her husband. Antonio knew that Shylock’s daughter had married, against Shylock’s wishes, a young Christian by the name of Lorenzo. Lorenzo was a friend of Antonio. Shylock was very angry with his daughter for this marriage. The Jew had no option but to agree. He begged permission to go home. He said that the new bond should be sent home for his signature. The Duke permitted him to go home. The Duke told knew that Shylock’s daughter had married, against Shylock’s wishes, a young Christian by the name of Lorenzo. Lorenzo was a friend of Antonio.Shylock was very angry with his daughter for this marriage. The Jew had nooption but to agree. He begged permission to go home. He said that the new bond should be sent home for his signature. The Duke permitted him to go home. The Duke told Shylock that if he became a Christian the State would return the other half of his wealth. The Duke set Antonio free. The Duke alongwith his Counsellors left the court-room.

Bassanio thanked Portia for saving the life of Antonio. He requested Portia to accept the money that he had offered to pay to the Jew. Bassanio felt that by offering money he was paying a tribute to Portia’s intelligence. Portia did not accept the money. When Bassanio requested her to accept a gift, she agreed to take Bassanio’s gloves. When Bassanio opened his gloves, she saw a ring on his finger. She told Bassanio that she would take the ring also. Bassanio was in a fix. He told Portia that his wife had given the ring to him. Therefore,he could not part with the ring. On hearing this Portia pretended to be angry.She left the court-room. Antonio then told Bassanio to part with the ring. Gratiano took Bassanio’s ring and gave it to Portia. The clerk Nerissa asked Gratiano for his ring. Gratiano very unwillingly gave away his ring. Bassanio and Gratiano had not recognized Portia and Nerissa. The two ladies were laughing amongst themselves as they left Venice.

On her return to Belmont, Portia was in a happy frame of mind. Nerissa and she awaited the arrival of Gratiano and Bassanio. Soon after Bassanio, Gratiano and Antonio arrived at Portia’s house. On meeting Gratiano, Nerissa asked about the ring, and not finding a satisfactory answer a quarrel ensured.Nerissa said that Gratiano must have given the ring to a woman. Gratiano said that he had given it to – the lawyer’s clerk. Then Portia told Gratiano that he should not have parted with the ring. Portia was sure that Bassanio had kept the ring she had given him. Gratiano said that Bassanio had given the ring to the lawyer. Portia, on hearing this, appeared to be very angry. She felt that he had given the ring to a woman. Bassanio said that he had given it to the lawyer.Antonio held himself responsible for these quarrels (quarrels between Portiaand Bassanio, and Nerissa and Gratiano). Antonio then told Portia that Bassanio had given the ring to the lawyer. Portia gave Antonio a ring and asked him to tell Bassanio not to part with it.

Bassanio realized that it was the same ring he had given to the lawyer. Then Portia told him that she was the young lawyer and Nerissa was her clerk. Bassanio admired his wife’s courage and wisdom. His wife Portia had saved his friend’s (Antonio’s) life. Portia welcomed Antonio to her house. She gave him letters which stated that Antonio’s ships were safe. The ships were in the harbour. On hearing this good news, everyone present there felt happy. There was rejoicing and laughter in Portia’s house.

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