In the opening of this act, Solania and Salerio are talking about the hot topic of discussion on Rialto, the Venetian bridge. There runs a rumour that Antonia has lost another of his ships off the south-eastern English coast. Shylock approaches them and blames them of helping his daughter run away. Both of them do not disagree and ask Shylock if he came across the rumours about Antonio’s ship and his impeding losses.
Shylock reminds them of the bond that Antonio had signed with him and that he plans to take a pound of his flesh if he fails to repay his loan in time. He believes he is avenging Antonio for all the wrong he had done to Shylock only because he was a Jew. Solania and Salerio are asked to go to Antonio’s house by one of Antonio’s servants. Tubal, Shylock’s friend, who is also a Jew then comes to Shylock, and gives him some news about Jessica. Tubal also tells Shylock that Antonio has lost one more ship and may lose all his money soon, and Shylock becomes more determined to take his vengeance on Antonio.
Portia asks Bassanio to wait before opening the casket as she wants to enjoy his company before any decision is made. But Bassanio does not want to wait and tells the audience directly that there is too much ornamentation to the other caskets and chooses the lead casket, and finds a portrait of Portia. Overjoyed by the portrait, he admires the picture and then reads out the scroll that is inside, “You that choose not by view/ Chance as fair and choose as true”. Portia offers everything that belongs to her to Bassanio, and gives him a ring and asks him never to part with it. She also takes a promise from Bassanio that he’ll never lose the ring no matter what. Graziano also expresses his desire to marry Nerrisa, the maid to Portia, and admits that they love with each other. Bassanio instantly agrees to get them married.
Lorenzo, Jessica and Salerio visit Belmont. Salerio has brought a letter from Antonio for Bassanio. Bassanio opens the letter, which reveals that Antonio is in great debt and that too to a very dangerous enemy of theirs. Portia offers to pay any amount of money to save Antonio, but it is made clear that Shylock will not stop from anything, now that he has an opportunity to hurt Antonio. Portia reluctantly asks Bassanio to leave for Venice to meet his friend and help him out as soon as possible.
After Bassanio’s departure, Solanio explains the reason behind Shylock’s hate for Antonio. Antonio used to lend money to poor men who owed to Shylock, and saved them from forfeiture, which Shylock thought was a wrong done against him as it was his right to collect the forfeiture money from the people. Portia and Nerissa also leave the house for a monastery, where they would go and pray for a few days. Portia also sends her servant to Doctor Bellario to bring whatever Bellario has to give. She also expresses her desire to go to Venice, disguised as men and help Bassanio and Antonio.
Launcelot teases Jessica that she is doomed as she is not a Christian, but she argues that Lorenzo has made her one by marrying her. Lorenzo enters and pretends to be jealous of them. They all leave for dinner.