The Merchant of Venice summary explores one of Shakespeare’s most popular plays. It paints a tapestry of dramatic events which culminates in the true scenario of poetic justice where we hear one of the greatest and most patronized speeches extolling the virtue of mercy.

The Merchant of Venice Summary Act 1

In the very first act of The Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare provides us an apt synopsis and characterization of the main players. Shylock the wily Jew and the antagonist of the play, Antonio the generous merchant, Bassanio the romantic lover and Portia his love interest who has her own tricks up her sleeve.

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The play opens out on a street scene in Venice where Antonio the merchant is lamenting his ill fortune that has befallen his ships at sea. He fears he may have lost his goods owing to bad weather or pirates.  Meanwhile Bassanio is in love with lady Portia, he pleads with Antonio to lend him money to prove his eligibility as a worthy suitor for her hand in marriage.  Bassanio admits his folly of losing money which he had borrowed from Antonio earlier but promises to pay all his debts to Antonio once he marries.

Antonio known for his generosity has a soft spot for Bassanio.  Although he has no money to offer him, he instructs Bassanio to proceed to Venice to meet with the moneylender Shylock for a loan on his account.

Meanwhile the lady Portia is unhappy at the prospect of not finding a worthy suitor owing to her late father’s will that dictates the manner of choosing. Every man wanting her hand in marriage must choose between three caskets made from gold silver and lead in which lies the answer to the perfect suitor. Portia is particularly fond of Bassanio.

It isn’t so much Shylock’s tryst with Bassanio than his speech to Antonio which is near historical among patrons of theater. The lines “can a dog lend you monies’ is well remembered as is the famous expression “a pound of flesh “.  Antonio intercedes with Shylock on Bassanio’s behalf after much bickering from the Jew who agrees to provide the money against the high price of a pound of flesh taken from Antonio if the loan is not repaid.

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