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The Merchant of Venice


Act 1

Bassanio wishes to marry Portia but does not have enough money to court her.

Antonio agrees to lend him the money. His money is tied up with his ships so he tells Bassanio to take out a loan in his name.

Portia is frustrated about the casket test which prevents her from choosing her own husband. The casket test has been set by her dead father and means that she has to marry the man who chooses the correct casket.

Shylock agrees to lend Antonio the money. It is clear that Antonio despises Shylock for his religion and race. In turn, Shylock hates Antonio and uses the loan as a chance to get his revenge for all the humiliation Antonio has piled upon him. Shylock’s condition of the loan is that Antonio will need to give a pound of flesh if he is not able to repay the money in time.

Act 2

Shylock’s servant, Launcelot, leaves his service to work for Bassanio. He delivers Jessica’s letter to her lover, Lorenzo.

Lorenzo and his friends help Jessica to escape from Shylock’s house. Armed with money that she has stolen from her father, Jessica leaves to marry Lorenzo.

Two of Portia’s suitors try and fail the casket test.

Shylock is devastated by his daughter’s betrayal. There are rumours that Antonio’s ships have been delayed and that it will be difficult for Antonio to repay his loan on time.

Act 3

News comes to Shylock that Jessica is spending all of his money and that another of Antonio’s ships is lost at sea.

Bassanio takes the casket task and passes it, becoming engaged to Portia. At the same time, Gratiano and Nerissa announce their engagement. Both couples swear their love through the exchange of rings.

News arrives of Antonio’s troubles and Bassanio and Gratiano sail to Venice to help him. Portia and Nerissa disguise themselves as men and secretly follow them.

Antonio asks Shylock for mercy but Shylock is determined to have his bond.

Act 4

As he cannot repay the loan, Antonio is brought to court and Shylock demands the payment of the pound of flesh, ignoring all pleas for mercy.

Portia arrives, dressed as a male lawyer. She saves Antonio by arguing that Shylock cannot take the flesh without spilling Christian blood, which is illegal.

Shylock is punished for plotting to kill Antonio by paying a hefty fine and becoming a Christian.

Portia and Nerissa are still dressed as men. They ask for the rings from their husbands as rewards for saving Antonio. Reluctantly, both men give their rings away.

Act 5

The action moves back to Belmont where Lorenzo and Jessica await Portia’s return.

Portia and Nerissa pretend to be outraged by their husbands giving their rings away. Then they reveal the truth: that they were the lawyer and the assistant. Antonio is told that his ships are safe. The play ends on a note of harmony.

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