The Merchant of Venice
Act 1, Scene 1
Antonio, a wealthy merchant of Venice, made his riches through marine trade. On one occasion, he stands with his two friends, Salarino and Solanio. Antonio feels gloomy and somewhat dejected. He does not know why. This intrigues him and his two friends.
Salanrino suggests that his merchant friend could possibly be worried about his overdue ships, still at sea. To calm his nerves, Salarino says some comforting words. He says that the large ships must be safe and smoothly sailing back home. They are too big to be sunk by the wickedness of the sea. The flotilla of the giant ships tower over the smaller cargo boats around them, and would complete their voyage smoothly.
Solanio empathises with Antonio with more plausible words. He says any merchant facing similar uncertainties would brood endlessly, trying to figure out the direction of the wind with a blade of grass, and delving into the marine maps to guess how the vessels could be, and the ports and waterways en route. Nonetheless, Solanio opined that any delay in return of ships would rob the owner of his peace of mind.
Salarino became serious. Leaving his carefree attitude, he began to understand why Antonio had become so filled with angst. He narrated how blowing his cup of hot soup reminded him of the ferocity of a raging storm. He also told how the heap of sand at the bottom of his hour glass brought him scenes of his own wrecked ships lying in ruins in the sea beach. Even the stone building of the church sank his heart in fear as it brought him memories of treacherous rocks that imperil floating crafts. A ship wreck instantly reduces its owner to penury when the precious cargo such as that of spices and silk are devoured by the tall angry waves, giving no chance of salvage. He now understands why Antonio is so pensive and perplexed.
Antanio begs to differ. He says the risk of the vessels does not worry him as he has other assets to pre-empt a sudden descent to bankruptcy.
Solanio butts in with his theory. He says his friend is sad because he pines for love. Antanio promptly rebuts Solanio’s contention, and pleads to be left alone.
Solanio can’t remain mum. He urges Antonio to cheer up so as to dispel the gloom from his mind. He asks Antonio to revel and make merry.
Perhaps, to vent his disappointment with Antanio’s continuing sulkiness, Solanio remarked that some people are innately jovial where as a few others (meaning Antanio) are, by nature, grumpy.
Three of Antanio’s other friends, Bassanio, Lorenzo, and Gratanio arrive in the scene. Solanio hails the trio in and leaves. Salarino stays back to take part in the discussion.
Salarino prepares to leave, but is held back. Antanio is ready to let him leave to attend to his business.
Bassanio is in upbeat mood. He asks both Salarino and Solanio to fix a time so that they all can have some good time.
Salarino offers to join the party.
Lorenzo invites all for dinner that night, as he too starts to leave.
Gratiano too finds Antonio unusually reserved and de-spirited. He advises Antonio to take things easy and pull himself up. Antonio’s reticence confounds him. He pleads with Antonio not to let his brooding tell upon his health and wellbeing.
Antonio becomes philosophical. He says that perhaps, melancholy is written into his role in this world, where he, like others, plays an assigned role.
Gratiano erupts into a bout of boisterous boast. He says, given a choice, he would indulge in anything joyful, and splurge in wines imperilling his liver, rather than burn away like a lamp in a dark remote corner. He beseeches his dear friend Antonio to reclaim his jovial airs, and waste away like a lifeless statue. A sullen, dry demeanour does no good, pleads Antonio. His love and concern for Antonio are apparent from the way he begs him to come out of the morass. Gratiano pours his scorn over the stern and vainglorious persons who think they only have all the wisdom in the world. When these dour persons begin to speak, they demand everyone’s, even a nearby dog’s undivided attention. Gratiano asserts that these tight-lipped persons are in fact ignorant. If ever, they speak, their shallow words attracts derision and mocking. Before leaving with Lorenzo, Gratiano makes a final plea to his dear friend Antanio to cast aside his gloom and regain his jest for a cheerful life.
Lerenzo leaves too promising to be there for the dinner. Light-heartedly, he adds that he would choose to be silent like the ‘wise men’ of Gratiano. He jokes that in earlier occasions Gratiano had seldom allowed him to talk as he wished.
Gratiano was ready with his riposte. He said that if Lorenzo lives with him for two years, he would lose his power of speech.
Antonio bids his friends goodbye assuring them that he would be more forthcoming from now on.
Gratiano adds to the humour saying that cooked ox tongues and those of the old maids need to be silent, not of any humans present.
Gratiano and Lorenzo exit.
Antonio is plunged in self doubt. He asks Bassanio if Gratiano is right in his contention.
Bassanio is going through a bad patch financially, chiefly because he spends more than he earns. Yet his dire financial straits do not affect his exterior. Bassanio intends make his own case for Antonio to emulate. Bassanio concedes that he does not disown his debts, but wants to redeem them and restore his standing in society. Bassanio reiterates his desire to liquidate the loan he has taken from Antonio. He hints that he has some plan to carry out.
Antanio, as always, lends a sympathetic ear to Bassanio’s desires. He says that he will assist in catty it to fruition anyhow. In his good-natured way, Antonio demands to know what help Bassanio wants.
Bassanio speaks about the beautiful wealthy lady of Belmont he is enamoured of. She has got huge property as inheritance, and has captivated him. She is Portia. Bassanio has met her before and assumes that she loves him too. Portia is a paragon of beauty. No wonder, she has no dearth of suitors who hail from far and wide. To match these wealthy men, Bassanio has to flaunt his wealth, but he has little to show.
Antonio rues that all his wealth is tied up in his ships that are not yet ashore. Nevertheless, he offers to use his creditworthiness to avail loan for use by Bassanio.
——————–End of Scene 1————————
Act 1, Scene 2 …
Portia, the most cherished woman from Belmont, feels bored and insipid. She confides to her maid Nerissa about it.
Nerissa has little to offer to help her mistress Nerissa’s spirits. Rather vaguely, she tells Nerissa that people with too little or too much wealth suffer too. She advises a middle path. In practice, the advice means nothing.
Portia complements her rather casually.
Portia moans saying that it is not easy to do good deeds as people flounder while attempting it. She candidly says that it’s easier to pontificate about righteous living to twenty people than to be the one person out of twenty who actually practices what one preaches. The mind must listen to the conscience. Hot-headedness makes doing good things difficult. She is tired of seeking out her husband. How would she ‘choose’ her husband, Portia wonders. She laments that she can’t choose whom she likes, or refuse others. She is bound by her father’s wishes. She expresses her despair at her predicament. Nerissa listens.
Quite a few royal suitors have descended on Belmont to see if they could win Portia’s hand. She is confused and a bit wary. Nerissa breaks a secret about Portia’s father’s intentions. While in his death bed, he had see a vision about the choosing of a husband for his daughter.
He had desired that there would be three boxes – of gold, silver and red. The would-be husband should choose the right box that holds the message of Portia’s choice.
After divulging this, Nerissa wanted to know if any of the princely figures indeed measured up to Portia’s expectations.
Portia asks Nerissa to go through the list of sitors. She would then narrate her impression about each of them. From this, Nerissa could surmise who meets Portia’s approval.
Nerissa takes the name of the prince from Naples.
Portia ridicules him saying that this man is a horse enthusiast. He boasts about his ability to nail a horse alone. Portia discards the case calling the prince a ‘blacksmith’.
Nerissa then goes to Count Palatine.
Portia sees him as a self-centered, ego-filled man. He is so dour that a funny story can not make him smile. So humourless young man would become a moron in old age, fears Portia. Portia turns down the case vehemently.
Nerissa then proceeds to the French lord, Monsieur le Bon.