The Merchant of Venice Summary l Summary of the Merchant of Venice

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The Merchant of Venice Summary Act 1, Scene 1:

Antonio is a Venetian merchant who lends money to people without taking an interest. He feels sad but does not know why. He complains to his friends Salarino and Solanio and they say that he must be either in love or that it would be due to his recent investments.
The three men encounter Bassanio. He is Antonio’s kinsman. Antonio asks Bassanio to tell him about his secret love. In reply, Bassanio says that he has fallen in love with Portia. She is a rich heiress from Belmont. In order to marry Portia, Bassanio says he needs to borrow more money from Antonio. Antonio replies that he cannot give Bassanio another loan, as all his money is tied up in his business. Anyhow, he offers to help him.
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The Merchant of Venice Summary Act 1, Scene 2:

At Belmont, Portia tells her servant Nerissa that because of her dead father’s will, she cannot decide whether to take a husband or not. Portia’s various suitors must choose between three chests, one of gold, one of silver, and one of lead.

They must select the one that contains Portia’s portrait. The man who guesses correctly will win Portia’s hand in marriage, but those who guess incorrectly must swear never to marry anyone. Both she and Nerissa remember Bassanio as the suitor most deserving and worthy of praise. A servant enters to tell Portia that the prince of Morocco will arrive soon.

The Merchant of Venice Summary Act 1, Scene 3:

Shylock is a Jewish moneylender. He agrees to loan Bassanio three thousand ducats for a term of three months. Bassanio assures Shylock that Antonio will guarantee the loan. Antonio arrives. Shylock confesses his hatred for Antonio in an aside. Shylock agrees to give a loan on the condition that if the loan is not repaid in due time, he will cut a pound of flesh from Antonio’s body.
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The Merchant of Venice Summary Act 2, Scene 1:

In Belmont, the Prince of Morocco arrives to attempt to win Portia’s hand in marriage. The prince asks Portia to lead him to the caskets, where he may attempt his guess.

She reminds him that the penalty for guessing incorrectly is that he must remain unmarried forever. The prince accepts this condition.

The Merchant of Venice Summary Act 2, Scene 2:

Launcelot decides to run away from his master Shylock. Bassanio takes Launcelot as his servant. Bassanio then meets Gratiano. Gratiano asks him to accompany him to Belmont, Bassanio agrees.
The two men plan a night of merriment to celebrate their departure.

The Merchant of Venice Summary Act 2, Scene 3:

Shylock’s daughter Jessica bids goodbye to Launcelot. Jessica gives Launcelot a letter to carry to Bassanio’s friend Lorenzo. Alone, she confesses that she is ashamed of her father. She hopes to leave Shylock by marrying Lorenzo and converting to Christianity.

The Merchant of Venice Summary Act 2 Scene 4:

On a street in Venice, Gratiano, Lorenzo, Salarino, and Solanio discuss the plan to unite Lorenzo with Jessica. As they talk, Launcelot enters.
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He has Jessica’s letter. Lorenzo recognizes the writing. He orders Launcelot to return to Shylock’s house in order to assure Jessica that Lorenzo will not let her down. Lorenzo relates to Gratiano that Jessica will escape from Shylock’s house by disguising herself as Lorenzo’s torchbearer.

The Merchant of Venice Summary Act 2, Scene 5:

Shylock tells Jessica that he has been invited for dinner. He tells her to keep the doors locked. Jessica bids him farewell.

The Merchant of Venice Summary Act 2, Scene 6:

As planned, Lorenzo calls up to Jessica. She appears on the balcony dressed as a page. Jessica tosses him a casket of gold and jewels. Jessica descends and exits with Lorenzo and Salarino.

The Merchant of Venice Summary Act 2 Scene 7:

Back in Belmont, Portia takes the prince of Morocco to the caskets. After much pondering, the prince chooses the gold casket. He opens the chest. He finds a skull in it. The prince makes a hasty departure.

The Merchant of Venice Summary Act 2, Scene 8:

Solanio saw Shylock’s rage upon learning of Jessica’s elopement. He describes the scene to Salarino.

Solanio hopes that Antonio is able to pay his debt, but Salarino reminds him of rumors that the long-awaited ships have capsized in the English Channel. The two men warmly remember Bassanio’s departure from Antonio towards Portia.
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The Merchant of Venice Summary Act 2, Scene 9:

The prince of Arragon is in Belmont to try his luck at winning Portia’s hand in marriage. When brought to the caskets, he selects the silver one, he finds a portrait of an idiot. Soon after he departs, a messenger arrives to tell Portia that a young Venetian has come to Belmont to try his luck at the casket game. Hoping that it is Bassanio, Portia and Nerissa go out to greet the new suitor.

The Merchant of Venice Summary Act 3 Scene 1:

Salarino and Solanio discuss the rumors that yet another of Antonio’s ships has been wrecked. They are joined by Shylock. He accuses them of helping Jessica in her escape. Salarino then asks Shylock whether he can confirm the rumors of Antonio’s lost vessels.

Shylock replies that Antonio will soon be bankrupt and swears to cut a pound of flesh from Antonio’s body.
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The Merchant of Venice Summary Act 3, Scene 2:

In Belmont, Bassanio insists that he make his choice now, to stop living without Portia as his wife. Bassanio picks the lead casket, which he opens to reveal Portia’s portrait. He also finds a poem congratulating him on his choice and confirming that he has won Portia’s hand.
The happy couple promises one another love and devotion, and Portia gives Bassanio a ring that he must never part with. Nerissa and Gratiano congratulate them and confess that they too have fallen in love with one another. They suggest a double wedding. Lorenzo and Jessica arrive in the midst of this rejoicing. Salarino also comes with them. He gives a letter to Bassanio. In the letter, Antonio writes that all of his ships are lost and that Shylock plans to cut his pound of flesh. Portia urges her husband to rush to his friend’s aid, and Bassanio leaves for Venice.
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The Merchant of Venice Summary Act 3, Scene 3:

Shylock escorts Antonio to prison. Antonio pleads with Shylock to listen, but Shylock refuses.

The Merchant of Venice Summary Act 3, Scene 4:

Antonio and Bassanio are so inseparable that Portia believes saving her husband’s friend is no different than saving her own husband.

Portia then sends her servant Balthasar to Padua, where he is to meet her cousin, Doctor Bellario. Doctor Bella Rio will provide Balthasar with certain documents and clothing. After Balthasar departs, Portia informs Nerissa that the two of them, dressed as young men, are going to pay a visit to their new husbands in Venice.

The Merchant of Venice Summary Act 3, Scene 5:

Lorenzo asks Jessica what she thinks of Portia, she responds that the woman is without match, nearly perfect in all respects.

The Merchant of Venice Summary Act 4, Scene 1:

In Venice, the Court convenes for Antonio’s trial. The duke of Venice greets Antonio and expresses pity for him. The duke summons Shylock into the courtroom and addresses him, saying that he believes that Shylock means only to frighten Antonio but Shylock reiterates his intentions.
Bassanio arrives from Belmont and attempts to argue with Shylock, but Antonio tells him that his efforts are futile.

Bassanio offers Shylock six thousand ducats, twice the amount of the original loan, but Shylock turns down the offer, saying he would not give up his bond for six times that sum.
The duke says that he has sent messages to the learned lawyer, Doctor Bellario, asking him to come and decide on the matter. Nerissa enters, disguised as a lawyer’s clerk, and gives the duke a letter from Bellario. The duke says that Bellario’s letter mentions a learned young lawyer named Balthasar, and orders the disguised Nerissa to admit the young man to the court. The duke then reads the letter. In it, Bellario writes that he is ill and cannot come to court, but that he has sent the learned young Balthasar.
Portia enters, disguised as Balthasar. The duke asks her whether she is familiar with the case. Portia answers that she knows the case well. The duke calls Shylock and  Antonio before her. Portia asks Antonio if he admits to owing Shylock money. When Antonio answers yes, Portia concludes that the Jew must be merciful.
Portia asks whether Antonio is able to pay the money, and Bassanio offers Shylock twice the sum owed. If need be, Bassanio says, he is willing to pay the bond ten times over, or with his own life.

Shylock refuses and gives Portia the bond for inspection. She terms the bond legal.
Antonio bids Bassanio farewell. He asks his friend not to grieve for him and tells Bassanio that he is happy to sacrifice his life. Shylock is about to cut Antonio when Portia suddenly reminds him that the bond says a pound of flesh only, not blood. She urges Shylock to continue cutting his pound of flesh but reminds him that if a drop of blood is spilled, then he will be guilty of conspiring against the life of a Venetian citizen and all his lands and goods will be taken by the state. Shylock hastily agrees to accept three times the sum but Portia says that Shylock must have the pound of flesh or nothing. Portia states that half of Shylock’s property would go to the state, while the other half would go to Antonio.
The duke spares Shylock’s life and demands only a fine, rather than half of the Jew’s estate. Antonio offers to return his share of Shylock’s estate, on the condition that Shylock convert to Christianity and give all his goods to Jessica and Lorenzo upon his death. Shylock consents and departs.
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The Merchant of Venice Summary Act 4, Scene 2:

After Shylock leaves, the duke invites Portia to dinner. Portia declines, saying that she must leave immediately for Padua.

As she leaves, the duke tells Antonio to reward the young lawyer. Bassanio thanks Portia and offers her the money he brought with him. Portia declines the gift. Bassanio insists that she take some token from him, and she eventually agrees. Portia asks Antonio for his gloves and Bassanio for his ring. She herself gave Bassanio that ring on the condition that he never part with it. Bassanio tells her that it is a valueless ring. He offers to find the most valuable ring in Venice, but Portia remains firm. She takes her leave. Antonio urges Bassanio to give her the ring. Bassanio sends Gratiano to run after Portia and give her the ring.
Meanwhile, Portia sends Nerissa to Shylock’s house to ensure that Shylock signs the deed that will leave his fortune to Lorenzo and Jessica. They plan to leave for Belmont which will ensure their arrival a full day before the arrival of their husbands. Gratiano enters, offers Bassanio’s ring to Portia, and invites her to dinner. Portia accepts the ring but declines the invitation. Portia asks Gratiano to show Nerissa to Shylock’s house, and Nerissa, before leaving, tells Portia that she will try to convince Gratiano to part with his ring. The plan satisfies Portia.

The Merchant of Venice Summary Act 5, Scene 1:

Portia and Nerissa enter and hear the music before they reach Belmont. Lorenzo greets Portia, and she requests that he not mention her absence to her husband. Trumpets sound as Bassanio, Antonio, and Gratiano arrive. Portia greets Bassanio. He introduces her to Antonio. Gratiano and Nerissa begin to argue over the ring with which he promised never to part. Nerissa chastises her husband not for hurting her feelings, but for breaking his own promise. Portia criticizes him for parting with so precious a gift, saying that her own husband would never have parted with his ring. Gratiano corrects her and reveals that Bassanio has given his ring to the lawyer who saved Antonio. Portia declares that her husband’s heart is empty. She promises never to visit his bed until he brings the ring.
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Bassanio pleads with Portia to understand but she says that it is more likely that Bassanio gave the ring to another woman. Antonio intercedes on behalf of Bassanio and Gratiano, asking the women to accept his soul if Bassanio or Gratiano proves unfaithful again. Portia and Nerissa relent and give each of their husbands a ring. Bassanio and Gratiano recognize these as the same rings they gave to the lawyer and his clerk. Portia reveals that she was the lawyer in Venice, and Nerissa her clerk. Antonio receives news that some of his ships have arrived in port, and Lorenzo is told that he will inherit Shylock’s fortune. Hence, the play ends happily.

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