Synopsis of Act 4 Scene 1 of The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare

The Merchant of Venice Act 4 (Scene 1) Plot Summary with Word Meanings

The trial scene of The Merchant of Venice' is the most famous and powerful scene of the play in the whole of English dramas. This is the scene where Shylock is to take his forfeiture from Antonio. Antonio's friends and even the Duke beg him to have mercy: Shylock says he will not grant mercy for the simple reason that he hates Antonio. He says Christians do what they wish with their slaves because they have bought them, and so it is with Antonio. Bassanio offers Shylock six thousand ducats, double the actual amount, but Shylock refuses saying that even if he were offered six times the amount, he would still want the 'pound of flesh'.

Nerissa, dressed as the lawyer's clerk enters the court and gives a letter to the Duke, which states that since he is unwell he is sending Balthazar, a learned lawyer, to prosecute the case instead of him.

Portia then enters the scene dressed as a lawyer. Portia makes the very famous speech on mercy here. She makes a very moving appeal to Shylock, but he only wants his bond, he only wants justice. After examining the bond Portia declares authenticity of the bond and permits Shylock to cut a pound of flesh from Antonio. As Shylock is about to do so Portia orders him to keep a surgeon at hand, but Shylock refuses because the bond stipulates no such safeguard.

As Shylock is ready to cut into Antonio, Portia reminds him that the bond stipulates only a pound of flesh and not even a single drop of blood. Shylock is stunned and he is now ready to take three times the amount and let Antonio go. Portia refuses and tells Shylock that he will get either his bond or nothing. On the other hand, in cutting the pound of flesh if even one drop of Antonio's blood spills, then all his lands and goods will be confiscated by the state of Venice, for harming a Venetian citizen. Portia then tells him that as per the law of Venice he is conspiring to kill a Venetian, therefore now his life depends on the mercy of the duke. The same law now demands him to give half of his property to the person against whom he has conspired, i.e. Antonio, and the remaining half would be confiscated by the state of Venice. The duke shows mercy by sparing Shylock's life and reduces his penalty to a fine rather than taking half of his property. The other half, which was to go to Antonio, was kept in a trust to be given to Lorenzo and Jessica, after Shylock's death. Shylock is also asked to convert to Christianity, and give everything in writing. Shylock feels completely defeated and leaves the court under the pretext of feeling sick.

Now, as a token of gratitude, Bassanio offers some money to the lawyer, which he (Portia) refuses. Portia demands for the ring that Bassanio is wearing but he refuses, calling the ring a trifle, saying that he wouldn't like to dishonor the lawyer by giving him such a lowly gift. Instead, he offers to find him the most expensive gift in Venice. Portia is disheartened at Bassanio not giving her the ring and leaves. Antonio requests Bassanio to give the ring to the lawyer, which Bassanio does; thus parting with the ring, which Portia had given him saying that if he would ever part with that ring, it would be the end of their love. For the sake of his friend Antonio, Bassanio gives the ring to the lawyer. Then they all (Bassanio, Gratiano, Antonio) make plans to leave for Belmont.


stony adversary - stone hearted rival,
inhuman wretch - a person without feelings,
Dram - a very small amount,
qualify - reduce,
stands obdurate - remains hard-hearted,
arm'd - prepared,
fashion of thy malice - mood of your cruelty,
exact'st - insist on having,
moiety of the principal - a part of the original sum,
pluck commiseration of – take out pity from,
brassy bosoms - hearts as hard as brass,
train'd to offices of tender courtesy - taught to behave with gentleness,
possess'd - informed,
sabbath - the seventh day of the Jewish week which was the holiest day,
carrion - rotten,
humour - mood,
ban'd - poisoned,
a gaping pig - a roasted pig's head with the mouth open,
loathes - hates,
abide - tolerate,
lodg'd - deep-rooted,
a loosing suit - a legal case where one must lose money,
current - course,
main flood - ocean tide,
bate- reduce,
use question with - ask,
ewe - mother sheep,
bleat - cry painfully,
fretten - blown,
beseech - beg,
abject and in slavish parts - for lowly and servile tasks,
viands - food,
meetest – fittest,
whet - sharpen,
inexorable - relentless,
currish - like a cur,
fell - cruel,
unhallow'd - unsanctified,
dam - mother,
ravenous – hungry,
rail – rebuke,
offend'st - trouble,
importunity - earnest request,
impediment - hindrance,
impugn you - accuse you,
strain'd - forced,
place beneath - earth,
becomes - suits,
temporal - worldly,
seasons – moderates,
mitigate - reduce,
bears down - overcomes,
wrest - twist,
lay perjury upon - break a pledge,
exposition - understanding of the case,
hath full relation - entirely supports,
still her use - usually her custom,
lingering - slow passing,
penance - suffering,
commend - convey my compliments,
entreat – request,
stock of barabas - a Jew,
trifle - wasting time over trivialities,
tarry – wait,
no jot - not even a small quantity,
upright - honest,
urgest - demand,
soft – wait,
substance - weight,
division - fraction,
scruple - a weight unit,
question - to argue,
value of a cord - price of a rope,
state's charge - expense of the state.

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