Synopsis of The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare

Short Summary of The Merchant of Venice

Bassanio, a young Venetian of noble rank, wishes to woo the beautiful and wealthy heiress Portia, of Belmont. Having squandered his estate, Bassanio approaches his friend Antonio, a wealthy merchant of Venice, kind, generous person, who has regularly bailed him out, for three thousand ducats needed to subsidise his expenditures as a suitor. Antonio agrees, but since he has inadequate cash because his ships and merchandise are engaged at the sea. He promises to cover a bond if Bassanio can find a lender, so Bassanio turns to the Jewish moneylender Shylock and names Antonio as the loan guarantor.

Shylock, who hates Antonio because of his Anti-Judaism campaign and his customary refusals to borrow or lend money with interest, is initially reluctant, citing the abuse he has suffered at Antonio's hand, but he eventually agrees to lend Antonio the sum without interest upon the condition that if Antonio is unable to repay it at the specified date, he may take a pound of Antonio's flesh. Bassanio does not approve of Antonio accepting such a risky bond: Antonio is surprised by what he sees as the moneylender's generosity (no "usance" – interest—is asked for), and he signs the contract. With money at hand, Bassanio leaves for Belmont with his friend Gratiano, who has asked to accompany him. Gratiano is a likeable young man, but is often flippant, overly talkative, and tactless. Bassanio warns his companion to exercise self-control, and the two leave for Belmont.

Meanwhile, in Belmont, Portia is awash with suitors. Her father left a will stipulating that each of her suitors must choose correctly from one of three caskets—one each of gold, silver and lead. If the suitor chooses the right casket, then he gets Portia. The first suitor, the luxurious Prince of Morocco, chooses the gold casket, interpreting its slogan "Who chooses 'th me shall gain what many men desire" as referring to Portia. The second suitor, the conceited Prince of Arragon, chooses the silver casket, which proclaims "Who chooses 'th me shall get as much as he deserves", imagining himself to be full of merit. Both suitors leave empty-handed, having rejected the lead casket because of the baseness of its material and the uninviting nature of its slogan: "Who chooseth me must give and hazard all he hath." The last suitor is Bassanio, whom Portia wishes to succeed, having met him before. As Bassanio ponders his choice, members of Portia's household sing a song which says that "fancy" (not true love) is "engend' red in the eyes, With gazing fed", prompting Bassanio to disregard "outward shows" and "ornament" and chooses the lead casket, winning Portia's hand.

In Venice, Antonio's ships are reported lost at sea. This leaves him unable to satisfy the bond. Shylock is even more determined to exact revenge from Christians after his daughter Jessica had fled away from home and eloped with a Christian, Lorenzo, taking a substantial amount of Shylock's wealth with her, and a turquoise ring which was a gift to Shylock from his late wife, Leah. Shylock has brought Antonio before the court of the Venetian Duke.

At Belmont, Bassanio receives a letter stating that Antonio has been unable to return the loan taken from Shylock. Portia and Bassanio marry, as do Gratiano and Portia's handmaid Nerissa. Bassanio and Gratiano then leaves for Venice, with money from Portia, to save Antonio's life by offering the money to Shylock. Unknown to Bassanio and Gratiano, Portia has sent her servant, Balthazar, to seek the counsel of Portia's cousin, Bellario, a lawyer, at Padua.

The climax of the play comes in the court of the Duke of Venice. Shylock refuses Bassanio's offer of 6.000 ducats, twice the amount of the loan. He demands his pound of flesh from Antonio. The Duke, wishing to save Antonio but was unable to nullify a contract, refers the case to a visitor who introduces himself as Balthazar, a young male "doctor of the law", bearing a letter of recommendation to the Duke from the learned lawyer Bellario. The doctor is actually Portia in disguise, and the law clerk who accompanies her is actually Nerissa, also in disguise. As Balthazar, Portia repeatedly ask Shylock to show mercy in a famous speech, advising him that mercy is twice blest: "It blesseth him that gives and him that takes." However, Shylock adamantly refuses any compensation and insists on the pound of flesh.

As the court grants Shylock his bond and Antonio prepares for Shylock's knife, Portia points out that the contract only allows Shylock to remove the flesh, not the "blood", of Antonio. Further damning Shylock's case, she tells him that he needs to precisely cut only one pound of flesh, no more, no less; she advises him, "if the scale do turn, but in the estimation of a hair, "Thou diest and all thy goods are confiscate." Thus, if Shylock were to shed any drop of Antonio's blood, his "lands and goods" would be forfeited under the Venetian laws.

Shylock, clearly unable to comply with this law, asks instead that he be given the six thousand ducats, Portia refuses his request, explaining that she has already ruled according to the contract and that it must be carried out. Shylock wishes the court to completely drop his case and forgive Antonio the entire three thousand ducats. Portia again refuses his request, on the ground that he has already refused it "in the open court". Portia also finds that Shylock is guilty of conspiring to kill Antonio, and explains that the law in Venice states that if any foreigner conspires against the life of a Venetian, then he should forfeit all his wealth, half is taken as a fine by the state, and half of his wealth is to be given to the man against whom he conspired. In addition, the Duke is granted the power of life and death over him. When Shylock is pardoned by the Duke, he informs the court that he would prefer death rather than lose everything he owns. Antonio gives Shylock's property back to him with the understanding that he will bequeath his entire estate to Lorenzo and Jessica and he must also convert to Christianity.

Bassanio does not recognizes his disguised wife, and offers to reward the supposed lawyer. Initially, she denies, but after his continuous persuasion for a token of gratitude, Portia requests him for his ring and Antonio's gloves. Antonio parts with his gloves without a second thought, but Bassanio gives the ring only after much persuasion from Antonio, as earlier in the play he promised his wife never to lose, sell or give away his bond of love. Nerissa, as the lawyer's clerk, also succeeds in likewise retrieving her ring from Gratiano, who is also unable to recognize her disguise.

At Belmont, Portia and Nerissa taunt, and pretend to accuse their husbands before revealing their disguise as the lawyer and his clerk in disguise. After all the other characters make amends, Antonio learns from Portia that three of his ships were not stranded and have safely returned from the sea.

More Study Resources for ICSE Class 9 and 10

ICSE Study Materials for Class 9&10 Students are very helpful if you want to get good marks in the examination. These Study Resources includes all the subjects of ICSE Board. It also contains the questions and answers of all the chapters and topics which are provided in the syllabus of ICSE for Class 10 Students. ICSE Solutions and Questions and Answers for Class 9 students are also based on the latest syllabus of ICSE Board. All the solutions and Summaries are strictly based on the latest pattern which is provided on icserankers. The subjects for which solutions are provided are Hindi, English, Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, History and Civics, Geography and Economics. Books like Selina Concise Publisher's Textbook, Frank Certificate Textbooks, ML Aggarwal Textbooks solutions are provided chapterwise.

Previous Post Next Post