What do we learn about Portia, Antonio, and Shylock in Act 1 scene 3 of The Merchant of Venice?

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Portia, the rich heiress who is bound by her father's commands about her marriage, does not appear and is not mentioned in Act I Scene 3.  Bassanio and Shylock, the young merchant in need of money and the rich moneylender, respectively, talk about a loan of three thousand ducats.  It is clear that Bassanio sorely needs this money, but he is not of sufficient age or established business character yet to take out the loan on his own.  Antonio, who is an older and well-established businessman, must co-sign the loan with Bassanio, to make it credible that it will be paid back.  In this age before established banks this kind of personal business transaction was common, and in order for lenders to have any kind of certainty that a loan would be paid back a person of wealth and established credit would be required to stand with the borrower, and to pay back the loan to the lender if necessary.  Shylock and Antonio have an adversarial relationship.  Antonio, who is a prosperous businessman, lends out money to those who need it "gratis, and brings down/The rate of usance here with us in Venice."  This means Antonio hurts Shylock's moneylending business by taking customers away by lending at zero percent interest, while Shylock charges interest.  Also, Antonio has made Anti-Semitic comments in the past, and directly insulted Shylock.  It is here that the ludicrous bargain for the "pound of flesh" of Antonio is negotiated, if Bassanio defaults on the loan.

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The Merchant of Venice

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