Act 5 : Scene 1
The Merchant of Venice is one of the masterpieces of arguably the best dramatist of all time, William Shakespeare. This is perhaps one of the most complex works of Shakespeare. It has been woven with a variety of issues like racism and love, as well as friendship and hatred.
The ingenuity of characters is such that it allows the reader to drift away in the land of thoughts and draw deep motivation from them. Perhaps there is no other character in the whole literature like the character of Shylock in this drama. He appears in just four scenes but creates an indelible mark in the minds of the reader.
However, the drama is a romantic comedy in letter as well as in spirit. Written about 1594-1601, the drama explores a myriad of themes. It goes from challenges and sufferings to loyalty and trust; and finally the struggle and win of good over evil.
Shakespeare had a way with words and even after keeping with the central theme of romantic comedy, he effortlessly makes the reader feel the other selective themes and minor symbolic stories. The five act play is sublime and truly a piece of art.
Plot of the Drama
Antonio a wealthy merchant of Venice. He is well-known and has a reputation among the citizens of the town. Bassanio is a one of his closest friends. He owes Antonio a great deal of money. He hopes to pay him back but has been unable to do so.
However, he thinks that he has now found a way to pay his debt. Bassanio confesses to Antonio that he is in love with Portia, a rich heiress of Belmont. He explains to Antonio that he has been unwise with money and thus cannot got courting her as he is short of money. To be an eligible suitor to Portia, he needs money which he asks from Antonio. Though Antonio is very willing to help Bassanio, he does not have enough money with him as all his money is invested in ships that are still to return from the sea. But he tells Bassanio to take loan from moneylenders using Antonio’s name as security.
At Belmont, Portia tells Nerissa, her maid, about the troubles she is going through due to her father’s will. Her father had put the condition that Portia could not choose a husband of her will. Instead, her husband to be must choose the right casket out of three different caskets of gold, silver, and lead. So, far, none has been able to choose the right casket. Even Portia is relieved at this because she does not like any of the suitors. Then Nerissa mentions Bassanio and Portia mentions that she was impressed by him.
Back at Venice, Bassanio has found a probable moneylender. This moneylender was Shylock who harbours a secret hatred for Antonio because he used to lend money without interest and was spoiling the business of others. Moreover, he was livid because of the insults inflicted on him and his race by Antonio. However, he agrees to lend three thousand ducats to Bassanio on Antonio’s bond but on a very unusual condition. He says that if Antonio is unable to pay him in three months, Shylock will be authorised to cut a pound of flesh from Antonio’s body. Bassanio advises Antonio against accepting such a demand, but Antonio agrees as he was confident about the return of ships, a month before the stipulated time for the bond.
Meanwhile, Lorenzo, another friend of Antonio and Bassanio, falls in love with Jessica, Shylock’s daughter. Shylock is against her courting a Christian, but Lorenzo manages to elope with her when Shylock was at a dinner at Antonio’s place. This makes Shylock furious. Moreover, Jessica takes a large amount of her father’s money and jewels.
In Venice, it is heard that Antonio has lost his ships. This provides comfort to Shylock. Back in Belmont, Portia has accepted Bassanio as an eligible suitor for her after he chose the right casket. Also, her maid Nerissa has fallen in love with Gratiano. After their marriage, Bassanio heard of the tragedy which occurred with his friend Antonio. Portia tells Bassanio to go his friend and herself consults a lawyer so that she could save Antonio from the vicious plans of Shylock.
Antonio has been arrested and his trial had begun at the Duke’s court. Bassanio asks Shylock to accept double the amount, but he refuses. He has only one thing in his mind and that is revenge. Shylock wanted Antonio’s flesh only.
Just then, Portia arrives in the disguise of a male attorney. Portia says that the conditions of the bond must be respected. But Shylock should be careful to cut off only a pound of Antonio’s flesh and not a single drop of blood should be spilled. If he fails to do so, all his wealth and lands will be confiscated, as per Venetian law.
Shylock realises that he is at a loss and wants to accept the money. However, Portia refuses and says that he tried to take the life of a Venetian citizen, which is punishable by death. Now, Shylock was in peril of his own life. However, the Duke save his life but on the condition that he becomes a Christian and leaves his assets after his death to his daughter and his son-in-law, Lorenzo. Shylock sees his defeat and accepts all the conditions willingly. In gratitude, Bassanio and Gratiano want to pay the two lawyers. Surprisingly, the two ask for the rings that they were wearing. They give up their rings to them rather unwillingly.
When Bassanio and Gratiano, along with Antonio, return to Belmont, their wives inquire about the missing rings. After a long time spent in teasing about the rings, the two women finally reveal the reality to them. The moments turn more joyous when they learn that Antonio’s ships have arrived safe and sound. Hence, the play ends with the prevalence of good over evil.
Characters in Order of Appearance
The little character, Antonio is a wealthy but sad elder merchant who claims never to have borrowed money, but is willing to lend to the people and friends, especially Bassanio, without benefit of interest.
A young man with expensive tastes and rich friends who borrows money from Antonio in order to become the right suitor to the rich, intelligent and beautiful Portia.
Salerio, Salarino & Salanio
Friends of Antonio and Bassanio, minor characters almost indistinguishable from each other (in fact they are sometimes considered to be a single person) who comment on the action and and who inform the audience about the action that has occurred offstage.
Bassanio’s friend with a bawdy and clownish demeanor, who accompanies Bassanio to Belmont where Portia lives and falls in love with Portia’s maid Nerissa.
Bassanio’s friend who falls in love with Shylock’s daughter Jessica.
Servant to Bassanio.
Widely pursued noblewoman who is as intelligent as she is rich and beautiful. Her father’s will demands that her husband be selected through a test involving three caskets: one gold, one of silver and one of lead.
Portia’s handmaid who falls in love with Gratiano, Bassanio’s friend.
The Jewish merchant of Venice who lends Antonio the money on his friend Bassanio’s behalf. Clever and quick, Shylock is all at once a dark humorist, a moral absolutist, a religious bigot and surprisingly, a sentimentalist. He serves as both the villain and the most tragic figure of the play.
Shylock’s daughter who escapes from her father’s house in order to marry Lorenzo. She converts to Christianity in order to further assimilate into Christian society of Venice.
Shylock’s friend, the only other Jew in the play, who functions as a news bearer of Jessica’s escape and of her consequent behaviour.
Shylock’s comic servant who leaves Shylock’s service to serve Bassanio.
Launcelot’s blind father who has not encountered his son in years.
Prince of Morocco
Portia’s suitor and the only Black character in all of Shakespeare outside of Othello.
Prince of Arragon
One of Portia’s suitors who greedily chooses the silver casket.
Balthasar and Stephano
Servants to Portia
The Duke of Venice
The reigning office of Venice who presides over the court when Shylock intends to collect on his bond.