Do you agree with the claim that the opening act of William Shakespeare's play The Merchant of Venice accomplishes the task of informative exposition of the play? Please explain why you agree or disagree.
The opening act of William Shakespeare's play The Merchant of Venice does indeed serve to provide an informative exposition of the elements of the play, and sets up the dramatic situation and conflicts that will ensue. Each of the three scenes introduces a major character and reveals to us the problems or issues pertaining to the character that will be resolved in the remaining acts.
Act I Scene 1: This scene introduces us to Bassanio and Antonio. We discover that Bassanio is in debt and intends to court Portia, a rich heiress, in the hopes of marrying her to end his financial difficulties. We also find out that Antonio's money has been invested in ships and that he is worried that the ships may be in trouble. Both of these pieces of information are important to how the plot unfolds later in the play.
Act I Scene 2: In this scene, Portia is discussing her suitors with Nerissa, and introduces us to the casket test set by her deceased father. We discover that Portia does not like the current set of suitors, and we get some sense of her character. The casket test will become an important element later in the play, and this exposition makes the later performances of her suitors as they make their choices comprehensible.
Act I Scene 3: This scene introduces us to Shylock in his role as a moneylender. As well as giving us an exposition of the conditions of the loan, it conveys to the audience Shylock's vindictive attitude towards Antonio and other Christians:
I hate him for he is a Christian, ...
If I can catch him once upon the hip,
I will feed fat the ancient grudge I bear him. ...