Synopsis of Act 1 Scene 1 of The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare

The Merchant of Venice Act 1 (Scene 1) Plot Summary with word meanings

The play starts with Antonio, a rich merchant of Venice, complaining to his friends about melancholy that he cannot find any reasons for, his friends feel that it could be because of the worry regarding the safety of his merchant ships that may be threatened by storms or sea pirates. Antonio denies this by saying that his merchandise is widely distributed and does not depends upon those ships only. Solanio says that it may be due to love, but Antony dissents this and states that, he hates falling in love. So his friends attribute the melancholy to his 'strange' nature.

After the departure of these two friends, Bassanio, Gratiano and Lorenzo arrives. Gratiano teases Antonio by suggesting that he is too much bothered about the opinion of the world or he wants to appear as a wise man. Antonio replies that he treats the world but as the stage', a stage every man has to do a role and his is a sad one. Gratiano immediately responds, and says that he is not the one willing to be sad, he wants to enjoy his youth before the age descends upon him. He departs by advising Antonio to overcome his sadness and not to be its victim.

When he is left alone with Bassanio, he asks his friend about his visit to a lady. Bassanio then confesses that he is in love with a rich lady from Belmont, but without any money, because of his extravagant nature, he'll not find a chance to woo the lady. He will be at a disadvantage as compared with the other rich suitors. He requested Antonio to lend him sufficient money, but Antonio does not have any ready cash as his 'fortunes are at sea' but offers to stand as a guarantee for a credit to raise the money.


in sooth - truly,
want-wit - a dull fellow,
argosies - merchant ships,
signiors - gentlemen,
portly - stately,
burghers - citizens,
pageants - decorated floats,
overpeer - look over the heads of,
petty traffickers - small commercial boats,
reverence - respect,
woven wings - canvas sails,
broth - soup, shallows and of,
flats - shallow waters and sandbanks,
Andrew - common name for big ships,
dock'd - run ashore,
bechanced - happened,
Janus - a Roman God at doors who has two faces-one frowning and the other smiling,
vinegar aspect - bitter nature,
Nestor - an old and wise Greek General who would not laugh at silly jokes,
marvelously - considerably,
let my liver - a liver environed by wine will produce rich blood that will enliven one's disposition, mortifying – miserable,
alabaster - marble white stone used in making statues,
jaundice - sickly and complaining,
profound conceit - deep thought,
ope - open,
gudgeon - a small foolish fish easily caught,
exhortation - good advice,
a neat's tongue dried - an ox-tongue, preserved and ready to be eaten,
prodigal - extravagant,
aged – in debt,
extremest means - utmost capacity or resources,
shaft - arrow,
latter hazard - second loan,
fleece - wool,
Jasons - adventurous sailors,
presages - prophesies,
thrift - profitable success,
rack'd - stretched

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