The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare

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What is the importance of the opening scene of The  Merchant of Venice by Shakespeare?

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Act 1, scene 1 of this play is critical in multiple ways. It serves as a way to introduce audiences to characters, relationships, future conflicts, and financial situations.

Right from the start, audiences are introduced to Antonio. He isn't in a good mood, and audiences soon discover that is because he has a lot of his money wrapped up in a financial gamble. He's worried, and says as much:

And every object that might make me fear
Misfortune to my ventures out of doubt
Would make me sad.
These details are critical pieces of information because they alert audiences to the fact that Antonio is a "money guy." He's used to taking financial risks that could go quite badly. We need this information in order to make his future deal with Shylock more believable. We've already seen him take a risk on the ships, so taking a risk on Bassanio and Shylock is nothing new.
This scene also introduces audiences to Bassanio. We do understand that Antonio and Bassanio are good friends with each other, but I don't think that's necessarily the most critical thing that we learn about Bassanio. Act 1, scene 1 shows audiences that Bassanio is a fairly shallow individual. He's not great with money either, and that is why he's looking for another loan:
'Tis not unknown to you, Antonio,
How much I have disabled mine estate,
By something showing a more swelling port
Than my faint means would grant continuance.
Unfortunately, his plans for the money are nothing even close to honorable. He wants to use Antonio's money to woo the beautiful and rich Portia . Bassanio desires her because she's attractive and rich. Her money...

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