The Merchant of Venice Additional Summary

William Shakespeare

Summary

(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

As is typical of William Shakespeare’s comedies, The Merchant of Venice contains three interrelated plots. The merchant of the play’s title, Antonio, has cast his fortune into several ships laden with goods he purchased abroad and now awaits the ships’ return to Venice with some apprehension. When his dear young friend Bassanio asks him for the loan of a large sum of money he can use to impress Portia, a lady of Belmont whom he wishes to court, Antonio can only refer him to Shylock, a Jewish moneylender, and offer himself as surety for the loan. Antonio and Shylock have been adversaries for some time; Antonio criticizes the Jew for charging usurious interest rates as he himself lends money without charging interest. Antonio’s antipathy for Shylock extends to mocking his way of life, and heaping insults on the Jew. Nonetheless, Shylock, who likewise expresses his hatred of Christians and their ways, agrees to the loan of three thousand ducats with the curious condition that if Antonio fails to satisfy the debt when due, he shall forfeit a pound of his flesh.

Bassanio, amply provided with funds sufficient to impress Portia, travels to Belmont in grand style. There, he passes a test involving three caskets that other would-be suitors, including a prince of Morocco and a prince of Aragon, have failed, when he chooses a casket made of lead instead of gold or silver. This victory wins him the Portia’s hand in marriage. His companion, Gratiano, likewise gains the hand of Portia’s lady-in-waiting, Nerissa. A third couple, Antonio’s friend Lorenzo and Shylock’s runaway daughter, Jessica, round out the marriages that Shakespeare’s comedies typically celebrate.

The problematic pairing of Lorenzo and Jessica, whose relationship forms the third thread in the multiplotted play, adds real injury to the insults heaped on Shylock and fuels his resolve to seek revenge on the Christians of Venice. The couple goes to Belmont from Venice at the same time that Salerio, another of Antonio’s friends, travels there, and they all arrive on the very day of Bassanio’s success. Salerio bears a letter from Antonio describing the ruin of his merchant fleet and the necessity...

(The entire section is 898 words.)

Summary

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Bassanio, meeting his wealthy friend Antonio, reveals that he has a plan for restoring the fortune he carelessly spent and for paying the debts he incurred. In the town of Belmont, not far from Venice, there lives a wealthy young woman named Portia, who is famous for her beauty. If he can secure some money, Bassanio declares, he is sure he can win her as his wife. Antonio replies that he has no funds at hand with which to supply his friend, as they are all invested in the ships he has at sea, but that he will attempt to borrow money for him in Venice.

Portia has many suitors for her hand. According to the strange conditions of her father’s will, however, anyone who wishes her for his wife has to choose correctly among three caskets of silver, gold, and lead the casket that contains the message that Portia is his. In case of failure, the suitors are compelled to swear never to reveal which casket they chose and never to woo another woman. Four of her suitors, seeing they cannot win her except under the conditions of the will, depart. A fifth, a Moor, decides to take his chances. The unfortunate man chooses the golden casket, which contains a skull and a mocking message. The prince of Arragon is the next suitor to try his luck. He chooses the silver casket, only to learn from the note it holds that he is a fool.

True to his promise to Bassanio, Antonio arranges to borrow three thousand ducats from Shylock, a wealthy Jew. Antonio is to have the use of the money for three months. If he finds himself unable to return the loan at the end of that time, Shylock is given the right to cut a pound of flesh from any part of Antonio’s body. Despite Bassanio’s objections, Antonio insists on accepting the terms, for he is sure his ships will return a month before the payment is due. He is confident that he will never fall into the power of the Jew, who hates Antonio because he often lends money to others without charging the interest Shylock demands.

That night, Bassanio plans a feast and a masque. In conspiracy with his friend, Lorenzo, he invites Shylock to be his guest. Lorenzo, taking advantage of her father’s absence, runs off with the Jew’s daughter, Jessica, who takes part of Shylock’s fortune with her. Shylock is cheated not only of his daughter and his ducats but also of his entertainment, for the wind suddenly changes and Bassanio sets sail for Belmont.

As the days pass, the Jew begins to hear news of mingled good and bad fortune. In Genoa, Jessica and Lorenzo are lavishly spending the money she took with her. The miser flinches at the reports of his daughter’s extravagance, but for compensation he has the news that Antonio’s ships, on which his continuing fortune depends, were wrecked at sea.

Portia, much taken with Bassanio when he comes to woo her, will have him wait before he tries to pick the right casket. Sure that he will fail as the others did, she hopes to have his company a little while longer. Bassanio, however, is impatient to try his luck. Not deceived by the ornateness of the gold and silver caskets, and philosophizing that true virtue is inward virtue, he chooses the lead box. In it is a portrait of Portia. He chose correctly. To seal their engagement,...

(The entire section is 1322 words.)