In Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, what important background information is established in the first scene?  

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In the first scene of Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, the audience meets Antonio who is the merchant spoken of in the title. He is depressed and attended to by Salerio and Solanio who are Bassanio's friends. As they discuss the possible reasons for Antonio's sadness, Bassanio, Lorenzo and Gratiano enter; thus, the main Christian male characters are introduced. Eventually, Bassanio is left with Antonio alone to ask for a loan in order to court a rich lady; but what is also revealed is the fact that this isn't the first time that Antonio has lent Bassanio money. It is also learned that this new loan must be done on credit because all of Antonio's money is tied up with his ships that are out on the ocean doing business. The first scene indirectly introduces Portia as well and it is learned that she is rich, single and of noble birth. The exposition of the characters and their differing financial statuses helps to set the plot up around money, law and tradition which are all played out through the play.


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