Last Updated on December 8, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1445
Solanio and Salarino are talking, and Salarino shares that he has heard a rumor that another of Antonio’s ships has wrecked. Solanio hopes that it is only a rumor, but he suspects it is likely true, and he hopes that all Antonio will lose is a ship, rather than the flesh that he has promised to Shylock. Shylock enters, and after calling him a devil, Solanio and Salarino ask how he is doing. He accuses them of knowing about his daughter’s plans to run away, which they affirm. Shylock exclaims that his own flesh and blood has rebelled against him, to which Solanio makes a dirty joke at Shylock’s expense about how it is surprising that Shylock’s flesh can rebel at his age.
Salarino then tells Shylock that he and his daughter are completely different people, and then asks if he has heard any news on Antonio’s ships. Shylock says that his deal with Antonio is another bad deal but that Antonio had better come through on his bond. Salarino exclaims that Shylock cannot possibly want Antonio’s flesh, but Shylocks says that he will use it to bait fish and feed his own revenge. This, Shylock believes, he is entitled to, for Antonio has continuously insulted Shylock.
Shylock explains that like all humans, including Christians, Jews have eyes, hands, organs, and feeling. They eat like anyone else, get hurt like anyone else, get sick like anyone else, and die like anyone else. He asks whether a Jew should not seek revenge if wronged. Christians, he tells them, seek revenge often. In following suit, he is only exercising the lesson that he has learned from Christians.
One of Antonio’s servants then enters and tells Solanio and Salarino to meet Antonio at his estate. Before they exit, Tubal, another Jew, enters, and Solanio makes a derogatory comment. Tubal has been searching for Jessica but cannot find her. Shylock curses Jessica and tells Tubal that one of the jewels she stole was worth two thousand ducats. He wishes she were dead in front of him with the money and jewels that she stole and realizes that he has spent a lot of money just trying to find her. He bemoans his bad luck and feels that he is the only one in the world truly suffering.
Tubal tells Shylock that Antonio has also had bad luck; a third ship of Antonio’s has been reported missing. Tubal also tells him about the money that Jessica has been reported as spending, as well as the ring which she traded for a monkey—the ring was given to Shylock by his dead wife. Shylock likens this news to being stabbed with a dagger. Despite the bad news, Shylock is happy to hear about Antonio’s misfortune, and he sends Tubal to find an officer to arrest Antonio. Shylock claims that he will have Antonio’s heart, and with Antonio gone, he will be able to charge whatever interest he wishes.
Bassanio, Portia, Nerissa, Gratiano, and a large group of servants enter the stage. Portia begs Bassanio not to begin the test of chests. She feels that the sooner he takes the test, the sooner he may lose and have to leave, and she cherishes his company. She knows that she cannot break her oath to her late father and tell him which chest to choose, but if he chooses incorrectly, she will lose him, and in that case she would sin by wishing she had broken her oath.
In Portia’s eyes, she is already Bassanio’s, but the circumstances “Put bars between the owners and their rights.” Even ownership does not mean anything, so in this way, she is both Bassanio’s and not Bassanio’s. Bassanio feels as though he is being tortured on the rack by being unable to choose immediately. Portia playfully reasons that if he is being tortured, he must have something to confess, but Bassanio says that his only treason is fearing that he will not be able to love Portia. Rather than confess and live, Bassanio says that he will confess and love, and he then asks to see the chests.
Portia has her entourage give him some room, and she asks them to play music when he chooses: a sad song if he chooses incorrectly, and a fanfare if he chooses correctly. Portia likens Bassanio to Hercules and bids him fight the battle with the chests. The entourage begins singing about the origins of love as Bassanio considers his chests. When they finish, Bassanio reasons that gold is far too gaudy, and that one can be deceived by appearances, so he rejects the gold chest. He also observes that common coins are made of silver, and he rejects the silver chest. While he does not give a good reason for choosing the lead chest, he explains that he is moved by its paleness, and so he chooses the chest.
Portia is overwhelmed with emotion and attempts to calm herself as Bassanio opens the chest to find her picture. He comments on how beautiful the picture is and then finds a scroll in the chest, which congratulates him and instructs him to kiss Portia. Bassanio still doubts whether he won the trial and asks Portia to confirm it. Portia confirms his success and wishes she were more rich and more beautiful for Bassanio, because she is an inexperienced girl, but she acknowledges that she is intelligent and capable of learning. She gives Bassanio a ring, telling him that all in front of him is now his but that if he were ever to lose the ring, it would ruin their love. Bassanio promises that if he ever takes the ring off, it will be because he is dead. Nerissa and Gratiano congratulate the lovers, and Gratiano admits that he has fallen for Nerissa and has already confessed his love to her; they agreed to get married if Bassanio had passed the test.
Bassanio says that he would be delighted to have a double wedding, but at that moment, Jessica, Lornezo, and Salerio arrive. Bassanio asks permission to welcome Lorenzo and Salerio to their home, but Salerio hands Bassanio a letter from Antonio. As Bassanio reads the letter, Gratiano asks Nerissa to welcome Jessica and inquires about how Antonio is. Portia sees that Bassanio is becoming pale as he reads the letter and suggests a friend must have died.
Bassanio explains that he had to borrow money from Antonio to visit Belmont and that all of Antonio’s ships have been reported lost. Salerio further elaborates that Shylock plans to collect his debt, and now that three months have passed, he will likely not accept money as payment, even if Antonio could find it. Portia asks how much money Antonio owes Shylock, and when she finds out that it is three thousand ducats, she scoffs at the low number and offers to pay him back double or triple. Portia suggests they get married right away, and then Bassanio can go back to Venice, but when he reads the letter wherein Antonio’s final wish is to see Bassanio one last time, she insists that he leave immediately.
It is in scene 1 of act 3 that we encounter what is probably the most celebrated monologue of the play. Here, Shylock builds his argument for why he deserves revenge against Antonio. He achieves this primarily by humanizing himself in the face of anti-Semitic discrimination. In particular, he cites the similarities between himself and Christians (“if you prick us, do we not bleed?”). Neither Solanio nor Salarino have a particularly strong response to this, only further denigrating Jews when Tubal arrives. With the lack of any coherent rejoinder to Shylock’s argument, the play makes a clear point: Jews and Christians are not so different, and they deserve the same treatment.
It is also during this scene that we learn Shylock had been saving his late wife’s ring and that Jessica has carelessly pawned it for a monkey. This is perhaps the scene where Shylock is most relatable to the audience.
In addition to providing more context and characterization for Shylock, act 3 also reveals more of Portia’s character. In scene 2, Shakespeare portrays Portia’s intelligence. This is important, as her cleverness becomes a key plot element in act 4. We see, for instance, that Portia can verbally spar with Bassanio, playing with his metaphors. She is also quick to call attention to the fact that she is both clever and adept at picking up new knowledge. Intelligence, then, emerges as a central feature of Portia’s character.
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