Elizabethan and Jacobean Drama, Honours, Honours 3rd Year, Main Text, Short Question, Summary, Summary & Analysis, Themes

Merchant of Venice : Summary and Analysis of Act 1

Merchant of Venice
Merchant of Venice

Act I, Scene One
Antonio, a merchant, is during a melancholic state of mind and unable to seek out a reason for his depression. His friends Salerio and Solanio plan to cheer him up by telling him that he’s only worried about his ships returning safely to port. Antonio, however, denies that he’s worried about his ships and remains depressed. His two friends leave after Bassanio, Graziano and Lorenzo arrive. Graziano and Lorenzo remark that Antonio doesn’t look well before exiting, leaving Bassanio alone with Antonio.

Bassanio informs Antonio that he has been prodigal together with his money which he currently has accumulated substantial debts. Bassanio reveals that he has come up with an idea to pay off his obligations by marrying Portia, a wealthy heiress in Belmont. However, so as to woo Portia, Bassanio must borrow enough money in order that he can act sort of a true nobleman. Antonio tells him that each one his money is invested in ships stumped , but offers to borrow money for him.

Act I, Scene Two
Portia, the rich heiress, discusses her many suitors together with her noblewoman Nerissa. She points out the faults that every one of them has, often stereotyping each suitor consistent with the country from which he has arrived. Nerissa, a gentlewoman who works for Portia, asks her if she remembers a soldier who stayed at Belmont several years before. Portia recalls the person, and says, “Yes, yes, it had been Bassanio” (1.2.97). Portia’s serving-man then arrives with news that four of her suitors are leaving, but another, the Prince of Morocco, has arrived.

Act I, Scene Three
Bassanio in engaged in conversation with Shylock, a Jew who makes his living as a moneylender. Bassanio has asked him for a loan of three thousand ducats, a really large sum at the time, for three months. He further tells Shylock that Antonio is to “be bound,” meaning that Antonio is going to be liable for repaying the loan.

Shylock knows Antonio’s reputation well and agrees to think about the contract. He asks Bassanio if he may speak with Antonio first, and Bassanio invites Shylock to dinner. Shylock responds that he will never eat with a Christian.

Antonio arrives at that moment and Bassanio takes him aside. Shylock addresses the audience and informs them that he despises Antonio. He bears an old grudge against Antonio which isn’t explained, but Shylock is further upset that Antonio lends out money without charging interest, thereby lowering the quantity he’s ready to charge for lending out his own money. Shylock turns to Antonio and tells him why interest is allowed within the Hebrew faith by quoting a biblical passage during which Jacob receives all the striped lambs from his father-in-law. Antonio asks him if the passage was inserted into the bible to defend interest charges. He states, “Was this inserted to form interest well, / Or is your gold and silver ewes and rams?” (1.3.90-91). Shylock replies that “I cannot tell. I make it breed as fast” (1.3.92).

Antonio is upset that Shylock is considering charging him interest on the loan, and asks Shylock to loan the cash with none interest. Shylock tells him, “I would be friends with you, and have your love” (1.3.133). He offers to seal the bond, “in a merry sport” (1.3.141) without charging interest, but as collateral for the loan demands a pound of Antonio’s flesh. Antonio thinks Shylock is merely joking about the pound of flesh and is happy to seal the contract. He remarks that “The Hebrew will turn Christian; he grows kind” (1.3.174).


The Merchant of Venice, like numerous of Shakespeare’s plays, opens with a depressed and melancholy character. Depression of Antonio at the startthat he cannot explain, is far like Antipholus of Syracuse within the Comedy of Errors. Portia, the rich Belmont heiress, is likewise a depressed and unhappy character within the opening scenes. the explanations for his or her melancholy, although never directly expressed, are thanks to their self-absorption. And like Antipholus within the Comedy of Errors, it’s only by taking an enormous risk (or both) that they’re going to be ready to overcome their depression. For Portia, this risk-taking is often seen in her love for Bassanio, which can require her to risk her entire inheritance so as for her to win him. For Antonio, the danger is even greater; namely a pound of flesh, representing his very life.

Bassanio represents the gambler who cannot lose. he’s the type of character which will risk everything, and having lost everything, will risk what he doesn’t have. Thus Bassanio tells us, “In my schooldays, once I had lost one shaft, / I shot his fellow within the selfsame flight / The selfsame way, with the more advised watch, / to seek out the opposite forth; and by adventuring both, / I oft found both” (1.1.140-144). He has often been compared to Jason within the go after the Golden Fleece, namely a risk-taker.

Portia as a personality is an odd mixture of varied traits. She is first presented because of the ruler of Belmont, clearly responsible for both herself and people around her. However, we soon discover that she isn’t responsible, indeed it’s “the will of a living daughter curbed by the desire of a dead father” (1.2.21). Portia’s reliance on the needs of her dead father, therefore, contradicts the image of her as Belmont’s ruler. Indeed, like many of the ladies in Shakespeare’s plays, she is going to be unable to change the plot around her as long as she may be a woman. it’s only later within the play, by dressing as Balthasar, a man, that she is going to finally be ready to command events and manipulate the play.

It is necessary to specialize in the conflict between the Christians and therefore the Jews throughout this play. Although the 20 th century has altered the way Western culture portrays the Jew within the Merchant of Venice, the compelling character of Shylock still disturbs and entices his audience. Shylock has historically been portrayed as a comic book character, and in Shakespeare’s day would have dressed quite differently from the opposite characters so as to differentiate himself from the Christians. The image of Shylock changed rapidly over the years, first making him a villain within the 1700s, a person to be pitied in 1814, and eventually a tragic character in 1879.

Although Shylock is accused of representing much of what the Christians hate, it’s through his conflict with Antonio especially that Shakespeare pokes holes within the accusations of the Christian men. the foremost common error is to assume that the merchant mentioned within the title is actually Shylock himself. this is often not the case since Shylock is merely a moneylender. Indeed, the merchant indicated is Antonio. This confusion surrounding Antonio and Shylock is purposeful, for it shows the audience how the Christians are in some ways as awful because the Jews they mock. It also sets the stage for misinterpretation. for instance, Shylock states, “Antonio may be a good man” (1.3.11), pertaining to the very fact that Antonio is “good” for the cash which Bassanio wishes to borrow. Bassanio takes this statement at face value and agrees that Antonio may be a nice man.

The seriousness of the Christian misunderstanding are often seen when Shylock makes the bond with Antonio:

“This kindness will I show.

Go with me to a notary, seal me there

Your single bond, and, during a merry sport,

If you repay me not on such each day,

In such a place, such sum or sums as are

Expressed within the condition, let the forfeit

Be nominated for an equal pound

Of your fair flesh to stop and brought

In what a part of your body pleaseth me.

Now Antonio repeats an equivalent mistake made by Bassanio, thinking that Shylock is being “kind” when he agrees to loan the cash without interest. Antonio states “The Hebrew will turn Christian; he grows kind” (1.3.174). Antonio is so convinced that he is going to be ready to repay his debts that Shylock’s request for a pound of his flesh as collateral strikes him as a joke, and this isn’t taken in the least seriously.

Shylock’s willingness to waive the interest payment brings to light a completely new set of conflicts within the play. Shakespeare draws on Francis Bacon’s statement, “It is against nature, for money to beget money,” when he portrays the Christians as unselfish givers of all they need. Shylock defends his taking of interest by quoting the passage where Jacob is given the striped lambs. Antonio immediately rejects this as nonsense, asking, “Was this inserted to form interest well, / Or is your gold and silver ewes and rams?” (1.3.90-91). Shylock replies that “I cannot tell. I make it breed as fast” (1.3.92).

This scene further focuses our attention on the utilization of sheep imagery in connection to money and breeding. Here Shakespeare plays on the words “use”, “usury”, and “ewes”, all of which can be punned throughout the play. All the sheep imagery is on Shylock’s side throughout, for he’s fleecing the Christians, breeding the ewes. He, therefore, mentions Jacob as his defense for taking an interest, and that we can note later that Shylock’s wife is known as Leah, an equivalent name that Jacob’s first wife had.

Shylock is additionally ready to make his money breed like sheep through the charging of interest. On the opposite hand, the Christians have Jason and therefore the Golden Fleece. This image is employed about Bassanio, the risk-taker, who risks everything to realize everything. an equivalent image will figure later with Antonio, who is represented as wether, a castrated sheep. Thus the concept is reinforced that Antonio doesn’t make his money breed because he refuses to charge interest.

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