The Merchant of Venice begins with Antonio's unexplained melancholy. Antonio does not understand it himself and ponders his own lack of insight. Salerio and Solanio suggest that it is caused by the uncertainty of his fleet of ships which must still return to port and therefore, with his "hopes abroad" (I.i.17) as Solanio says, it is understandable that Antonio should be anxious. However, Antonio dispels this idea and is confident because not all his assets or "ventures" (42) are reliant on this fleet of ships, he says, and so there must be some other reason for his sadness. They wonder if he is in love but Antonio absolutely denies this.
When Gratiano and Bassanio arrive, Salerio and Solanio leave, apologizing that they were not able to make Antonio "merry" (60). It seems that everyone notices Antonio's downheartedness and Gratiano has his own light-hearted advice for Antonio despite Antonio resigning himself to playing a "sad" (78) part. Gratiano offers to cheer Antonio up much like the job of the jester or "fool." He suggests that Antonio should be more optimistic so that he will approach old age ("wrinkles...jaundice") "with mirth and laughter" (80). He suggests that it is better to enjoy life than worry about it. He asks the question of why "a man whose blood is warm" should be cranky (irritated) and suggests that it wastes time to do so. He warns Antonio about turning out like those men who look the part of "Sir Oracle" but are not wise at all. He uses a play on words and metaphor to ensure the humor in his advice and reminds Antonio not to let the melancholy get the better of him or to search for the reasons behind it.