In the The Merchant of Venice, a contractual agreement takes center stage in the court of the Duke of Venice. Shylock loaned 3,000 ducats to Bassanio for him to use as his suitor expenditures for Portia. Bassanio does not have enough money to enter the loan, so he convinces Antonio, a wealthy merchant, serve as the loan’s guarantor.
If Antonio is not able to repay the 3,000 ducats, Shylock will remove a pound of Antonio’s flesh. There is no interest associated with this loan, and Shylock enters in the agreement because Antonio has abused Shylock previously, and the chance of enacting physical pain and death upon Antonio is too tempting for Shylock to pass up.
Antonio’s ships are reported lost at sea, so he is unable to repay the loan, which results in a trial. It’s important to note that Shylocks and Antonio’s rivalry is high religious in nature and depicts the often-contentious nature of this time between Christians and Jews.
In the trial, Portia arrives disguised as Balthazar, supposedly a young male doctor. Portia argues that the collateral of a pound of flesh does not include blood, so if Shylock draws blood or removes any weight of flesh other than exactly a pound, his property will be forfeited due to harm enacted upon a Venetian by an alien. Portia also argues that since Shylock refused money offers by Bassanio in open court for the express purposing of killing a Venetian, that law still applies to Shylock and eventually the Duke spares Shylock’s life but redistributes his property.