Antonio, a well-known merchant of Venice is walking along a street. He is sad. His friends Salarino and Salanio think that he is concerned about the safety of his merchant ships, which are not safe due to rising storms at sea and attacks by sea- pirates. Antonio refutes this. His friends think that he is sad because he might be in love. Antonio again disagrees that he is in love. Finally, Salarino points out that Antonio’s sullenness must be due to his gloomy personality. They are further joined by more friends, Bassanio, Lorenzo, and Gratiano. Gratiano stares at Antonio and teasingly scolds him for being serious and overly quiet. Gratiano further declares that he loves to play the fool to which Lorenzo says that sometimes Gratiano is too talkative. They depart promising to meet the others at dinner, leaving Antonio and Bassanio.
Bassanio tells Antonio about his love for Portia, a beautiful girl from Belmont. Bassanio further says that he cannot propose or express his love as he has little money. Antonio too feels sorry that he too has no money as he has invested all his money in the ships but asks Bassanio to get money from the town on the behalf of Antonio to go to Bemont and fulfil his dream.
Location shifts to Belmont, Here, Portia , a wealthy lady , is discussing the conditions laid down by her late father in his last will with her friend, Nerissa. Her father has written in his will that Portia cannot marry the man of her choice. Rather, she must interact with different suitors, who will choose the right casket from among “three chests of gold, silver and lead.” Portia finds that none of her suitors impressed her. Nerrisa then informs Portia about a gentleman, a venetian soldier, who once visited Belmont when hwer father was alive. Portia is happy to hear this and tells Nerrisa that this gentleman is Bassanio. Howe ver , Portia gets a news that her four suitors namely, a Neapolitan prince; the County Palatine; a French lord, Monsieur Le Bon; a young English baron, Falconbridge; a Scottish lord; and a young German, the Duke of Saxony’s nephew have decided to leave . But another suitor, the Prince of Morocco has arrived.
Bassanio goes to meet Shylock, a Jewish moneylender, seeking a loan of three thousand ducats and Antonio will be a guarantee to repay the loan of three thousand ducats. Shylock is doubtful about giving money to Bassanio as he is aware that Antonio has invested all his money in his merchant ships. And his ships are out in the sea. Bassanio insists him again and finally keeping in mind Antonio’s reputation, Shylock relents to give Bassanio the loan. Bassanio requests Shylock to join them for dinner where they will discuss the formalities of the loan. Shylock, however, denies to join them at dinner stating that as he is a Jew he will only do business with the Christians but will not dine with them as it is against his principle to dine with a Christian.
Antonio enters and joins Bassanio and Shylock. Shylock (in an aside) shows his contempt for Antonio because he is a Christian and the more he hates Antonio because he lends money to people without taking interest. He blames Antonio for publicly tarnishing his image for telling people that Shylock charges excessive interest in his moneylending business. Lastly, Shylock agrees to lend Bassanio the three thousand ducats for a period of three months, and Antonio will sign a bond as security.
Shylock tells them that he is more interested in making friends with Antonio. Therefore, he will not charge any interest for the loan. But he cleverly traps Bassanio and Antonio in signing a bond as ‘a merry sport’. He inserts a clause in the bond that Antonio is unable to repay the loan within the stipulated time, Shylock will have the right to cut a “pound of flesh” from any part of Antonio’s body. Bassanio, on hearing this stops Antonio from signing such a contract, but Antonio tells him that his Ships will return from abroad well in time before the three months deadline. Finally, Antonio sign the contract.
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