The Merchant of Venice Act V, Scene I: Summary and Analysis
by William Shakespeare

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Act V, Scene I: Summary and Analysis

New Character:
Stephano: a messenger

Lorenzo and Jessica are in the garden in front of Portia’s house in Belmont, whispering sweet nothings in each other’s ears. Stephano, a messenger, enters and announces that Portia will soon return. Launcelot Gobbo arrives and makes the same announcement with respect to Bassanio. Lorenzo dispatches Stephano to ready the household for Portia’s return. Lorenzo babbles for a time about the moon and music.

Portia and Nerissa enter and encounter the two mooning lovers, who welcome them home. Portia orders that no one in her household mention her and Nerissa’s absence. Bassanio, Antonio, Gratiano, and their followers arrive. Portia welcomes them home to Belmont and is introduced to Antonio.

The company notice Gratiano and Nerissa quarreling. Portia inquires why, and it is revealed that Gratiano gave away the ring Nerissa had given him, which he promised never to remove from his hand. Portia chastises Gratiano, claiming that her betrothed, Bassanio, would never do such a thing. Gratiano reveals that Bassanio too gave his ring away and pleads that they both sacrificed their rings to the judge and clerk, who would take no other payment. Portia and Nerissa feign disbelief, insisting the men must have given the rings away during some tawdry sexual encounter and vowing never to sleep with their future husbands until the rings are recovered.

Antonio attempts to intercede on his friends’ behalf, promising that never again will Bassanio break his oath. To seal the bargain, Portia produces a ring, which turns out to be the same as the one she gave him in the first place. She claims to have recovered it by sleeping with the doctor. Nerissa also insists that she regained her ring from the clerk using a similar method. Having thoroughly bewildered all parties concerned, Portia reveals that she and Nerissa were the doctor and the clerk. She also gives Antonio a letter, informing him that three of his ships have in fact returned and are laden with riches. Nerissa tells Lorenzo of Shylock’s new will, naming him heir of the usurer’s estate. There is general merriment, and the company goes inside Portia’s house.

Act V, Scene 1 is the final scene of the play, and its primary purpose seems to be to restore the comic mood threatened by Shylock’s attempt on Antonio’s life. The frivolous final subplot is resolved here; Portia reveals that she and Nerissa were the doctor and the clerk, and thus that Bassanio and Gratiano simply gave the rings back to their original owners. Clearing away any remaining ill residue from the previous scenes, Portia also reveals that some of Antonio’s ships have returned safe, thus restoring his previous good fortune as a businessman. The spirit of comedy wins the day.

Shakespeare’s primary agenda in this scene, as in so many, is a linguistic one; in other words, much of the dialogue here is aimed at displaying his wit and ingenuity, with a barrage of puns, double-entendres, and metaphors. Lorenzo’s sole purpose in this...

(The entire section is 781 words.)