Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice Study Material

Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice

William Shakespeare

(The Plot)

  • Antonio, a merchant of Venice, and Bassanio are very close friends. Bassanio needs money to marry a wealthy lady in Belmont named Portia. He borrows money from a cunning, Jewish moneylender called Shylock. Shylock lends him a heavy sum but makes Antonio sign a bond that if the money is not repaid within three months, he would cut a pound of flesh from Antonio’s body.
  • Meanwhile, Portia, who has to face many suitors, waits for the arrival of her beloved, Bassanio. Before he died, Portia’s father, realizing her difficulty in choosing the right man, had left a test for her suitors. Each man was to be presented with three caskets, of gold, silver and lead. Inside one of them was Portia’s picture, and whoever chose this casket would become her husband.
  • The Prince of Morocco chooses the gold casket but finds inside it a skull and a warning. The Prince of Aragon chooses the silver casket and finds the portrait of an idiot and another warning. Bassanio chooses the lead casket, the one with Portia’s picture, and claims her as his wife. And his friend Gratiano marries Nerissa, Portia’s maid.
  • As the merry-making commences, there comes a letter from Antonio. His ships are lost at sea, and hence unable to pay his debt, he has to keep his word with Shylock, and offer him a pound of his flesh. Portia offers money but Shylock insists on a pound of Antonio’s flesh as mentioned in the bond.
  • When their husbands leave for Venice, Portia and Nerissa too follow them in disguise. Portia disguises herself as a (male) lawyer with Nerrisa as her clerk. Portia leaves her house in the care of Jessica, Shylock’s daughter who has left her father and married Lorenzo.
  • All the great men of Venice gather at the Duke’s court but Shylock is unmoved by their arguments. He feels that the law is on his side and demands justice according to the bond. Portia enters the court and changes the entire nature of the argument. She speaks not of justice but of mercy.
  • Portia wins the battle of wits and Shylock is forced to leave the courtroom in defeat. Thanks to the brilliance of Portia’s reasoning, the misfortunes of Antonio, the merchant of Venice, are finally ended, and the married couples are ready for a life of happiness.

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