Home Upcoming Shows HSC Venues Past Productions Articles HSC Programs Shakespeare Library Actor Resources About Us/Contact Us Site Map Links




Scene by Scene Synopsis

Scene:  Venice and Portia's house at Belmont

Act I, Scene 1:  Salerio and Solanio attempt to cheer up their friend Antonio, they are assisted Bassanio, Lorenzo and Gratiano.  Antonio denies that he is worried about his investments in far-flung trading voyages, for he is confident of their success.  The friends, except Bassanio, depart.  Antonio inquires about the love affair Bassanio has promised to speak of.  Bassanio replies that his extravagant lifestyle which he has supported with loans from friends, especially Antonio, may pay off if he can successfully  woo and marry Portia, a rich heiress.  However, he wishes to borrow more money in order to present himself as an impressive enough suitor to compete with his wealthy rivals.  Antonio assures his friend that he will loan him as much as he needs.  Because Antonio's funds are all invested in ships at the moment, he promises to borrow the money to support Bassanio's courtship.

Act I, Scene 2:  Portia discusses her later father's will with her maid, Nerissa.  Under its terms, she must marry the man who select from among three chests or caskets-one each of gold, silver, and lead-the one that contains the consent placed in it by her father.  Portia worries about the sort of husband she may win in this lottery.  She and Nerissa discuss and humorously dismiss a number of potential suitors, and Nerissa reveals, to the relief of her mistress, that all of them have decided not to choose among the caskets because of a penalty that Portia's father has decreed for those who pick either of the wrong ones.  Nerissa reminds Portia of Bassanio, who had visited some time before, and they agree that he would make an acceptable suitor.  Word comes that a new suitor, the Prince of Morocco, has arrived.

Act I, Scene 3:  Bassanio and Antonio ask the Jewish moneylender Shylock for a loan.  Antonio remarks that he is opposed to usury, the lending of money at interest, and Shylock defends the practice.  Further, Shylock observes that Antonio has often spat on him and insulted him for being a Jew, and he asks why he should be expected to assist his tormentor.  Antonio frankly acknowledges that Shylock must regard the  loan as one made to an enemy .  Shylock, however, insists that wishes to be friendly and offers to lend him the money interest free for three months, requiring only a humorous collateral; if Antonio cannot repay the loan when it comes due, he will permit Shylock to cut from his body one pound of flesh.  Although Bassanio is uneasy about this arrangement, Antonio signs a legal contract for the loan, confident that is business ventures will son bring him nine times the amount required.

Act II, Scene 1:  Morocco declares his love for Portia and agrees to be bound by her father's will if he selects the right casket, he will marry her, but he must solemnly swear that, if he chooses one of the others, he will never marry anyone.

Act II, Scene 2:  Shylock's clownish servant, Launcelot Gobbo, soliloquizes humorously on his desire to run away from his master.  His blind father, Old Gobbo, appears.  Launcelot teases his father, pretending to be a stranger, but finally speak seriously of his plan to desert Shylock and work for Bassanio, a more liberal and generous master.  Bassanio happens by, and Gobbo, with much comical prompting from his son, speaks to him about employing Launcelot.  Bassanio, find the youth amusing, agrees, and Launcelot departs to give notice to Shylock.  Gratiano enters and asks to accompany Bassanio when he travels to Portia's estate.  Bassanio agrees but insists that Gratiano curb his usual wild humor..

Act II, Scene 3:  Shylock's daughter, Jessica, bids Launcelot farewell and gives him a letter to deliver to Lorenzo,  Alone, she regrets that she is Shylock's daughter but takes heart in the prospect of marrying Lorenzo and converting to Christianity.

Act II, Scene 4:  Lorenzo, with Gratiano, Salerio and Solanio are preparing for a masque, when Launcelot arrives with the letter from Jessica.  Lorenzo gives him a message for Jessica: he, Lorenzo, shall not fail her.  Salerio and Solanio leave, and Lorenzo tells Gratiano that he and Jessica plan to elope that evening.

Act II, Scene 5:  Launcelot delivers an invitation to dinner from Bassanio to Shylock and hints to Jessica that Lorenzo is about to arrive.

Act II, Scene 6:  Lorenzo accompanied by Gratiano and Salerio, takes Jessica from Shylock's house.  Antonio enters and gives Gratiano the message that Bassanio is preparing to leave for Belmont.  Portia's estate.

Act II, Scene 7:  With Portia, Morocco reads the inscriptions on the caskets.  The gold one promises 'what many men desire' ; the silver offers as much as the chooser deserves; the lead warns that the chooser 'must give and hazard all he hath'.  Morocco rejects the lead as a plainly foolish choice an the silver as inadequate.  He selects the gold casket but finds inside it a rhyme informing him that he has lost.  He departs, to Portia's relief.

Act II, Scene 8:  Salerio and Solanio gossip about Shylock's hysterical discovery that Jessica has fled and taken much of his money.  They reflect that Shylock's anger will affect Antonio if he fails to repay his debt, and they worry that a rich Venetian ship, reported lost, may be one of his. 

Act II, Scene 9:  The Prince of Aragon ventures to choose one of the caskets and win Portia's hand.  He rejects the gold's offer of 'what many men desire' as the choice of the foolish multitudes who value outward appearance.  Feeling that he is quite worth, he elect the silver casket's promise of as much as he deserves.  However, a rhyme promise of as much as he deserves.  However, a rhyme inside the casket announces his failure, and he leaves.  A messenger bring word that a young Venetian intends to enter the lottery of the caskets. Portia and Nerissa hope that he will prove to be Bassanio.

Act III, Scene 1:  Salerio and Solanio discuss the rumored loss of Antonio's ship.  Shylock appears and curses Jessica: he also rails against Antonio, vowing that he will collect his pound of flesh as revenge for Antonio's anti-Semitism.  Shylock observes that Jews are like Christian in bodily respects, and he will prove that their desire for revenge is also the same.  A message from Antonio causes the gentlemen to depart, an Shylock's friend Tubal arrives.  Tubal reports that he has been unable to find Jessica, but he has heard of her extravagance with their father's money.  Shylock is frantic about his lost wealth, but Tubal also tells his friend that Antonio has suffered further losses and is said to be bankrupt.  Shylock becomes excited. 

Act III, Scene 2: Portia asks Bassanio to postpone choosing among the caskets, for he must leave if he fails and she has fallen in love with him.  Bassanio, however, cannot tolerate the suspense, an he proceeds to his selection.  He rejects the gold and silver as representing false glamour and expensive show, and he opens the lead casket.  Inside the finds Portia's picture and a test confirming that he has won her hand.  She gives him a ring, which he swears to wear until he dies.  Gratiano and Nerissa reveal that they have also fallen in love and a double wedding is proposed.  Salerio arrives from Venice with Lorenzo and Jessica.  He tells Bassanio that Antonio has lost all his vessels and that Shylock has said that he will demand the pound of flesh.  Portia offers to pay Shylock many times over.

Act III, Scene 3:  Antonio, in the custody of a jailer, approaches Shylock, but the Jew will not speak to him, he angrily repeats his demand for the pound of flesh and departs.  Antonio prepares to dies; he hopes only to see Bassanio again.

Act III, Scene 4:  Portia announces her intention to enter a religious retreat while Bassanio tries to help Antonio in Venice.  She instructs her servant Balthazar to deliver a letter to her cousin in Padua.  He is then to meet her with the documents and clothing the cousin will give him.  She tells Nerissa of her plot: they shall go to Venice disguised as men.

Act III, Scene 5:  Launcelot, in his capacity as a professional fool impudently jests with Jessica and Lorenzo, who then banter affectionately. 

Act IV, Scene 1:  The Duke of Venice convenes a court to try Shylock's claim.  Shylock is asked to be merciful, but he refuses.  The Duke announces that he ahs sent to a Paduan scholar for a legal opinion,  Portia and Nerissa arrive, disguised as a lawyer and his clerk sent by the scholar.  Portia interviews Shylock and Antonio.  After Shylock repeatedly demands strict justice, she awards him his pound of flesh but prohibits him from drawing any blood-for blood is not mentioned in the contract-on pain of death.  Realizing that he is beaten Shylock says he will accept the money, but Portia rules that he shall have only the exact justice he has demanded: he may attempt to extract his bloodless flesh or he may withdraw his suit, but he cannot claim the money.  Shylock concedes defeat and is about to leave when Portia further rules that as a non-Venetian who has attempted to take the life of a citizen, he is subject to the death penalty-unless the Duke pardons him-and to the confiscation of all his possession.  The Duke permits him to live, and Antonio suggests that he be allowed to keep half of his earthly goods in exchange for converting to Christianity and deeding the other half to Lorenzo and Jessica.  Shylock agrees to these terms.  The Paduan lawyer (Portia) refuses a fee but asks Bassanio for his ring as a token of thanks.  He refuses, saying that it was a sacred gift from his wife, but he repents after she leaves, accusing himself of ingratitude.  He sends Gratiano to give the ring to the lawyer.

Act IV, Scene 2:  Gratiano gives the ring to Portia, who asks him to direct her clerk (Nerissa) to Shylock's house to deliver the deed that the money lender must sigh.  Nerissa tells Portia that she will contrive to get Gratiano to give her his ring as well.

Act V, Scene 1:  Lorenzo and Jessica enjoy the moonlight and music at Belmont, joyfully comparing themselves t various famous lovers.  Word arrives that Portia and Nerissa are returning from the monastery, and Launcelot, comically imitating a hunting horn, heralds the approach of Bassanio.  The lovers resume their contemplation, and Lorenzo reflect on the harmony of the spheres.  Portia and Nerissa enter, just ahead of Bassanio, Gratiano an Antonio.  The women 'discover' that their husbands no longer have their rings an they chastise them severely, evoking pained excuses.  Finally, Portia reveals the truth, and the party moves indoors to celebrate their reunion. 


To view other The Merchant of Venice sections:

Main Play Page     Play Text    Scene by Scene Synopsis      Character Directory      Commentary


To view the other Plays click below:

By  Comedies    Histories    Romances    Tragedies

All's Well the Ends Well Antony & Cleopatra As You Like It Cardenio Comedy of Errors Coriolanus
Cymbeline Edward III Hamlet Henry IV, Part 1 Henry IV, Part 2 Henry V
Henry VI, Part 1 Henry VI, Part 2 Henry VI, Part 3 Henry VIII Julius Caesar King John
King Lear Loves Labour's Lost Loves Labour's Wonne Macbeth Measure for Measure Merchant of Venice
The Merry Wives of Windsor A Mid Summer Night's Dream  Much Ado About Nothing Othello Pericles Richard II
Richard III Romeo & Juliet Sir Thomas More Taming of the Shrew The Tempest Timon of Athens
Titus Andronicus Troilus & Cressida Twelfth Night Two Gentlemen of Verona The Two Noble Kinsman The Winter's Tale


To view other Shakespeare Library sections:

Biography     Plays     Poems     Sonnets     Theaters     Shake Links 

Send mail to with questions or comments about this web site.
[Home]  [Upcoming Shows]  [HSC Venues]  [Past Productions]  [Articles] [HSC Programs]
 [Shakespeare Library] [Actor Resources]   [Contact Us]  [Links]  [Site Map]