Act 4 : Scene 1 Summary – The Merchant of Venice

The Court Hearing Starts

The scene is of a court in Venice. The Duke is talking to Antonio. He says that it was bad luck that Antonio fell into the clutches of such an enemy who doesn’t even have an ounce of mercy. Antonio replies that he knows how much the Duke and others have tried to save his life but the Jew is adamant about his revenge. He cannot be denied as it will be against the law and it should be followed. Antonio was ready to suffer.

Shylock did not pay heed to mercy pleas

Shylock is called in. The Duke tells Shylock to have some mercy, otherwise it would be Antonio’s last hour. Antonio had been unfortunate enough and now everyone expects Shylock to have mercy on him. Also, he reminds Shylock that he would gain nothing out of Antonio’s flesh.

However, Shylock replies that he has already informed the court what he wants and according to the law, he should not be denied. He makes some  more statements and then Bassanio calls him an unfeeling man. Shylock tells him that his reaction does not have to please Bassanio. Bassanio asks him whether men kill all the things that they don’t love.

Bassanio offer Shylock more money

Antonio tells Bassanio to stop arguing for his cause as he was in a quarrel with a Jew. He knows that he will not have mercy on him. He further asks the court to give the judgement. Bassanio then offers Shylock twice the amount. Shylock says that even six times the amount would not satisfy him. The Duke tries to warn him that how would he hope for mercy when he is showing none. Shylock replies that he had done nothing wrong. Moreover, he is asking what is lawfully his and the Duke must award him accordingly.

Portia and Nerissa arrive dressed as men

The Duke was about to adjourn the court as he wanted to wait for learned doctor of law, Bellario, to arrive. Salerio announces that a messenger has come. Meanwhile, Bassanio asks Antonio to have courage but Antonio replies that he is ready to accept his fate. Nerissa disguised as a clerk gives a letter to the Duke and Shylock is seen sharpening his knife. Gratiano again appeals to Shylock to have mercy, which he denies. Gratiano gets agitated and hurls many insults at him but Shylock is still unmoved. The Duke informs the court that Bellario is not able to come and has instead sent another colleague, Balthasar. The letter said that Balthasar was well acquited with the case and must be relied upon. Portia enters dressed as a doctor of law.

Portia also pleads for mercy

Portia sees that the case was very much in favour of Shylock and thus she asks him to have mercy. She tells Shylock that mercy was the greatest thing that he could have at such a time. Mercy was above everything. However, Shylock still wanted to carry out the terms of the bond. Portia asks if he could be given money.

Bassanio says that he was ready to give twice the sum but Shylock was not ready to accept it. Portia then says that nothing could be done as laws must be followed. Shylock praises the ‘lawyer’ (Portia) for saying, ‘A Daniel come to judgement!’

Portia impresses Shylock

Shylock thinks that Portia was on his side and when Portia asked for the bond, he readily produced it. She asks if thrice the money would suffice but Shylock says that he had taken an oath and would not break it. Portia announces that in that case the must be allowed to take a pound of flesh off Antonio’s chest as the terms of the bond claimed.

Antonio was ready to get slaughtered. Portia asks if the balance to weight the flesh was ready. Portia then asks for a surgeon lest Antonio bleed to death. Shylock replies that it was not mentioned in the bond and he cannot do anything about it.

Antonio says farewell

Antonio thinks that his end has come and he takes Bassanio’s hand to bid him goodbye. He curses Shylock and hopes that he lives to get old enough to see poverty. He asks Bassanio to convey his wishes to his newly-wedded wife and tell her his tale. He says that Bassanio must not regret his death as he was happy enough to pay his friend’s debt.

Bassanio says that he was willing to lose all, even his wife, if he could save his beloved friend’s life. Portia replies that his wife would not be happy to hear of such an offer. Gratiano also makes such a statement and Nerissa is also quick to show contempt.

Portia turns the tables

Portia tells Shylock that he can have a pound of Antonio’s flesh off his chest. However, he cannot let a drop of Christian blood spill, for if he did so, then by the laws of Venice his lands would be confiscated. Shylock is stunned and Gratiano starts praising Portia. Seeing that he would lose, Shylock says that he should be given thrice the sum and the Christian must be allowed to go. As Bassanio prepares to pay him, Portia stops Bassanio.

She says that Shylock cannot have the money as he himself denied it earlier. What he can have is a pound of flesh, no less and no more, and no drop of Antonio’s blood should be shed. If that happened, all his property will be confiscated.

The Duke pardons Shylock

Shylock asks for his principal amount of three thousand ducats but even that is denied to him by Portia. Shylock tries to leave but Portia accuses him of scheming to take the life of a Venetian. He was guilty and according to the law, half of his property must go to the state and half to Antonio. Moreover, now Shylock’s life was at the mercy of the Duke. The Duke pardons him to make him see the difference in their thinking of his. However, he grants half his estate to Antonio and half to the state. Shylock cries that his life should be taken instead.

Shylock pays for his devilry

Now Portia asks if Antonio was ready to show mercy upon Shylock. Antonio says that he must keep half of Shylock’s property and after Shylock’s death, give it to his son-in-law. Also, he wants Shylock to become a Christian and sign a deed with the condition that upon his death all his property would go to his daughter and son-in-law. Shylock is devastated. He prays to be left alone for the time being and promises to sign the deed later.

Portia’s unusual request

The Duke calls Portia for dinner which she humbly refuses. The Duke then asks Antonio to reward them. Bassanio tries to pay them the ducats that they had but Portia rejects the offer. However, they ask the two to take something with them. Portia then asks for Antonio’s gloves and Bassanio’s wedding ring.

The ring was given to him by Portia and Bassanio had promised that he would never part with it. Bassanio is reluctant to give away the ring and seeing that, Portia acts as if offended and leaves. Antonio persuades Bassanio that they must be rewarded for their help. Bassanio, at last, sends Gratiano after the two with his ring and tells Antonio that they very next day they would leave for Belmont.

The Merchant of Venice Summary

Act 1 : Scene 1 Scene 2 , Scene 3

Act 2 : Scene 1 , Scene 2 , Scene 3 , Scene 4 , Scene 5 , Scene 6 , Scene 7 , Scene 8 , Scene 9

Act 3 : Scene 1 , Scene 2 , Scene 3 , Scene 4 , Scene 5

Act 4 : Scene 1 , Scene 2

Act 5 : Scene 1