The Merchant of Venice

by William Shakespeare

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Act 3, Scenes 3–5 Summary and Analysis

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Scene 3

Shylock, Solanio, and Antonio enter with a jailor. Shylock tells the jailor to watch Antonio and not to feel pity for him because he foolishly lent money. Antonio attempts to speak to Shylock, but Shylock insists upon collecting what he is owed. Because Antonio has called him a dog without provocation, Shylock swears that Antonio will now see his fangs. Antonio protests again, but Shylock silences him, refusing to give in to any pleas from Christians such as Antonio. 

Solanio comments on how stubborn Shylock is, and Antonio gives up trying to speak to Shylock. He understands that his interest-free loans hurt Shylock’s business and that Shylock wants to see him dead. Solanio tries to comfort his friend, claiming that there is no way the duke of Venice will hold him to the contract. However, Antonio knows that the duke must uphold a contract, lest Venice be known for reneging on contracts and hurting foreign trade. He resigns himself to his fate, hoping that he will see Bassanio one last time. 

Scene 4

Portia, Lorenzo, Nerissa, Jessica, and Balthazar enter the stage. Lorenzo tells Portia that he respects her for letting her husband leave immediately to help Antonio. He assures her that if she knew Antonio, she would know just how good and kind she was being. She reasons that if Bassanio and Antonio are such good friends, then Antonio must be like Bassanio, and thus she has no qualms in sending Bassanio with money to help his friend. She then leaves Lorenzo in charge of her estate until Bassanio returns. Portia claims she is going to a monastery until his return, and she insists that Lorenzo and Jessica serve as the owners of her mansion. They agree, and Lorenzo and Jessica exit. 

Speaking to Balthazar, Portia hands him a letter and asks him to take it to Padua, making sure that it reaches her cousin Bellario. Balthazar is then to take whatever clothes he receives from Bellario and meet her back at the ferry bound for Venice. When he leaves, Portia tells Nerissa her plan: they will dress like men and meet their husbands in Venice. Portia describes how she will walk and talk like a man, telling stories about all of the women she has bedded and rejected. When Nerissa asks why they are doing this, Portia tells her that she will explain the full plan on the carriage ride to the ferry, and they exit.  

Scene 5

Launcelot and Jessica enter, and Launcelot teases Jessica for her relation to Shylock. He tells her that she is damned, and the only hope he feels exists for her is that she is not actually the daughter of Shylock and that her mother had slept with others. If that were the case, Jessica tells him, then she would be punished for the sins of her mother rather than her father. She says that she has converted to Christianity for her husband, but Launcelot says that there are too many Christians already, and they are eating all the pork, driving the price of pork higher. 

Lorenzo enters and jokes that he might become jealous of Launcelot and Jessica, but Jessica tells him about Launcelot’s jests—that she is damned for being a Jew’s daughter and that he is a bad person for creating more Christians to raise the price of pork. Lorenzo jabs back that Launcelot has impregnated one of Portia’s Moorish servants, and Launcelot puns that she is “more” than he took her for. Lorenzo tells Launcelot to fetch the servants for dinner, and Launcelot continues to make puns, which frustrates Lorenzo, until Launcelot finally agrees to the task. 

Launcelot leaves, and Lorenzo comments on how skilled Launcelot is with words before asking how Jessica feels about Portia. Jessica feels that Bassanio has been blessed with Portia and that the gods must favor her. Lorenzo promises to be an equally good husband to Jessica, and she wishes to praise him, but he suggests they save it for their dinner conversation. 


While the first scene in act 3 builds sympathy for Shylock, scene 3 builds sympathy for Antonio. Shylock seems committed to taking Antonio’s flesh, and Antonio does little to fight against such a punishment at this point. He realizes that the Venetian law has to hold the contract, and he realizes that Shylock is beyond appeals for mercy. Thus, it seems that Antonio is resigned to his fate, an attitude he maintains until the end of the trial in act 4. 

This scene also begins to call into question the nature of Antonio’s relationship with Bassanio. While they have been characterized as close friends, his final thoughts are of Bassanio, leading some to interpret their relationship as being deeper than mere friendship. Indeed, Shakespeare begins drawing parallels between Antonio and Bassanio’s new wife. Portia, like Antonio, is willing to give Bassanio whatever money he might want to solve his problems. Bassanio speaks highly of both characters, suggesting that Antonio and Portia serve similar roles in his mind.

The final scene of act 3 provides more development for the characters of Jessica and Lorenzo, and while they frame their elopement as heroic, they are still characterized as immature and superficially motivated. Previously, Jessica did not want to dress as a man for fear that it would ruin her image. This is in contrast to Portia, who willingly dresses like a man to try to help Bassanio and Antonio. Jessica and Lorenzo also struggle to keep up with Launcelot’s puns, suggesting that they are not as witty as the clown. There seems to be a suggestion here that while Jessica and Lorenzo are happy, they lack intellectual and emotional depth.

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