The Merchant of Venice begins with Antonio's lament. He feels very sad but does not understand why he feels this way. He discusses his situation with Salerio and Solanio, who speculate that his concerns, and the reasons for his sadness, and why it "wearies" (I.i.2) him, revolve around his fleet of ships which is subject to the extremes of the weather. Antonio disagrees with this assessment and seems resigned to playing a "sad" part on what he describes as the "stage" of life. He goes on to have discussions with his dear friend Bassanio, and it is at this stage that the audience is first introduced to Portia's merits which Bassanio describes with some flourish.
Bassanio suggests that the word "fair" is a huge understatement of her beauty and compares Portia, with her "wondrous virtues" (163), to the wife of Brutus, one of Julius Caesar's men who was instrumental in Caesar's assassination. Portia (Porcia) is believed to have loved her husband unreservedly. Bassanio goes on to compare Portia to Jason's Golden Fleece and the audience is left in awe of the "worth" of this Portia whom he describes.
The audience wonders whether Bassanio's interests in Portia are genuine or perhaps a means to end his own money troubles. Even Bassanio seems to ponder. He feels that there is a connection between himself and Portia, whom he claims sent him "speechless messages" (164), but is conflicted nonetheless, and when he says that he would be "fortunate," the audience is left to consider how apparently important this Portia will be to him and to the plot. Suspense is created, and the audience is left with high expectations of Portia, who will be revealed in the next scene.