The Merchant of Venice –Explanation — ICSE

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 begins 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 preempt 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 Gratiano. 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.

Lorenzo 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 carrying 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 Portia’s spirits. Rather vaguely, she tells Portia 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 lead. 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 suitors. 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.

Portia is no kinder to him than she was to others. She disapproves of his infatuation of his own horse, and thinks the man is self-cantered and disgustingly pretentious in nature. His flamboyance is repelling. With a chuckle, Portia says that marrying the French is equal to marrying 20 persons as he shows of the skills of almost 20 others. Portia pours scorn on him and draws the curtain on his bid to win her hands.

Nerissa then proceeds to Falconbridge, that young English baron?

Portia reacts nonchalantly, showing no excitement. The Baron does not speak Latin and Portia does not speak English. This means a huge lifelong language barrier between the two. So, the proposal is still-born. This apart, the Baron’s sartorial taste was not to her liking. He wore an Italian tie, German hat and French trousers! 

Nerissa then broached the case of the Frenchman’s neighbor, the Scottish lord.

Portia assumed that he was very forgiving, since he didn’t recoil in vengeance when the Englishman slapped him on the ear. Rather than defending himself aggressively on the spot, he just walked away giving a threat that he intended to avenge the insult later. threatened to pay the Englishman back later. Quite interestingly, the Frenchman promised to help the Scot pay the Englishman back, and added a slap of his own. It was a double whammy that sealed the Scot’s fate.

Nerissa then turned to the young German, the duke of Saxony’s nephew.

Portia was dismissive about him from the start. He is an alcoholic, who can be likened to an animal. She would be happier as his widow than as his wife, said Portia disparagingly.

Nerissa reminds Portia about her father’s desire to marry the man who won the box riddle. She can’t possibly disregard her father’s desires.

Portia is circumspect. She asks Nerissa to put a nice big glass of white wine on the wrong box. It could lure him to choose the wrong one.   Portia averred that she would never marry a drunk.   I’ll do anything rather than marry a drunk, Nerissa.

Nerissa firmly brought the curtain down on all these contestants. She knew that they all would confine her to the home, and rob her of her freedom. She began to think of ways to pre-empt the possibility of any of the unworthy persons from winning the box contest.

Portia bemoans her fate saying she would die an old maid unless she can be won according to the rules set by her father’s will. She feels relieved thinking these suitors are sensible enough to stay away. She wants to see their back.

Nerissa asks Portia if she remembered a Venetian scholar-cum- soldier who accompanied the marquess of Montferrat there once when her father was still alive.

Portia promptly recalled that it was Bassanio.

Nerissa spoke flatteringly about him.

Portia seems to adore him too.

At this point, a servant makes his appearance. Portia eagerly asks him if she has brought any news.

The servant announces the arrival of the four suitors. They have come to say goodbye. But, there is one more man. He is the messenger of the prince of Morocco – the fifth suitor. The prince will arrive the same night.

Portia is not the least amused. In fact, she feels he is un-welcome. Mockingly, she says that if he’s as good as a saint but is black like a devil, she’d rather want him to hear her confession than marry her. Portia lets the servant leave and hastens to go and see off the messenger.

—————————-END OF SCENE 2————

Bassanio has reached Shylock’s house to negotiate the loan of 3000 ducats that he needs for his rendezvous with Portia.

Shylock puts on the air of a reticent lender, miser with his words, and cunning in his questions.

Bassanio will take the loan for three months with Antonio as the underwriter.

Shylock engages in some frivolous self-talk, perhaps cooking up some nasty thoughts to push Antonio to a corner. He does not deny that Antonio is an affluent man, but, typical of a stern lender, casts doubt on Antonio’s assets (cargo-laden ships) still locked. It is amazing how he has managed to keep track of Antonio’s ships in far-off seas – in England, Mexico, the Indies, and Tripoli. Perhaps to undermine Antonio’s standing, he says that ships are tangible assets that can vanish quickly if things go awry. There are many imponderables in the high seas that make marine trade fraught and risky, mentions Shylock.

Feigning some reluctance Shylock offers to give 3000 ducats as loan under Antonio’s guarantee.

Shylock still holds back, saying he has to have iron-clad guarantee built into the loan paper. For this, he desires to speak to Antonio.

Antonio enters the scene. Bassanio respectfully announces his coming.

Bassanio suggests that the trio has dinner together to thrash out the terms.

Shylock, most impolitely, utters hurtful words aimed at Antonio. His pent-up rage against the prospective borrower is alight. Antonio hates usury, Shylock practises it. This lies at the root of Shylock’s chagrin against Antonio. Shylock makes no effort to hide his utter disapproval of Antonio’s attitude towards the Jews and his interest-free lending.

Shylock continues to drag his feet with regard to the loan. First he says he does not have the entire amount ready in hand. He will borrow the shortfall from Tubal, a fellow Jew.  Antonio comes into the chamber.

He makes his formal request to Shylock for the loan conceding that he agrees to pay interest on the borrowed amount (contrary to his principles).

Shylock drags the discussion towards the repayment terms and the consequences of possible default.

To drive home his justification of charging interest, he cites the story of Jacob & Laban from the Bible. Quite interestingly, Antonio, in his goodness, draws a totally opposite conclusion from the episode.

In Genesis, Jacob is a shepherd who keeps an eye on his uncle Laban’s sheep as they graze. For this service rendered, he was to marry Laban’s daughter. Jacob and his uncle Laban come to an agreement that Jacob would, in due course, get all the striped and spotted animals. Cunningly, Jacob placed striped branches in front of the sheep when they mated, as a result the sheep gave birth to striped lambs. Jacob enriched himself by doing this trick.

Shylock invoked the story to press home the point that one should make some extra income when the opportunity comes. Antonio, a Christian, interprets the story in starkly different way.  He feels that God was kind on Jacob to get the additional number of lambs.

A Christian and a Jew thus argue on the ethics of usury. Antonio loathes it, but Shylock finds it as a legitimate practice.   

Shylock persists in his justification of charging of interest on loans, where as Antonio seethes in anger at the stance of Shylock which he finds as morally reprehensible. He virtually explodes in utter indignation at the Jew.

Antonio’s outrage has little effect on Shylock. He returns to the matter of loan negotiation.

Shylock dithers, and procrastinates, apparently to tease Antonio.

Antonio is restless. He demands to know if Shylock would indeed give the loan.

Shylock makes use of Antonio’s urgent need of funds that make him look so vulnerable. Shylock has the upper hand. As the lender, he acidly reminds Antonio of the scorn and humiliation poured on him at Rialto, by the man who stands before him as the borrower. He reiterates vehemently that charging interest is neither undesirable, nor abominable. Not charging interest was foolish.

Shylock boils in anger as he recalls how Antonio called him names, spat on him, and excoriated him mercilessly on the principle of usury. Quite tauntingly, he asks Antonio if he would still advance the loan, with all the insults fresh in his mind.

Antonio refuses to be browbeaten by Shylock’s rant. He expresses no remorse and asserts that he would continue to bitterly oppose Shylock’s charging of interest on his loans.

Like a valiant upholder of ethical lending practices, he seeks no mercy or leniency from Shylock. He urges the Jew to perceive him as an enemy and impose such default terms as an enemy.

The wily Shylock softens his stand. Quite intriguingly, he agrees to give the loan interest-free.

Bassanio is pleasantly surprised.

Shylock has hideous motives. Putting up a benign appearance, he offers to execute the loan bond adding that it is better if it is done before a notary. Quite light-heartedly, he proposes to incorporate a very dangerous clause for default. In case he failed to repay the amount on the due date, he (Antonio) would give a pound of his flesh carved out if his heart. Antonio is told that it is a joke, but the ulterior intent does not sink into the borrower’s or his friend’s mind at that point of time.

Antonio, unaware of this innocuous clause, accepts it readily.

Bassanio is hesitant. He urges his friend Antonio to step back.

Antonio shrugs off the fears. He feels the occasion of default does not arise as his ships would be home in two months time, and he would have enough money to pay back the loan.

Shylock feigns innocence claiming that the flesh extraction clause is nothing but non-sense. In case of default, what he needs is his money, not some human flesh. He puts up the air of a very friendly lender.

Antomio volunteers to sign the loan deed with that flesh clause.

Shylock asks the two borrowers to proceed to the notary to prepare the loan document. He said he will go to fetch the money in the meanwhile.

Shylock leaves.

Antonio assures Bassanio that nothing untoward is going to happen.

—————————-END OF ACT1—————-

Act 2, Scene 1

The eminent visitor from Morocco comes in first. He is black, but chivalrous too. His dark skin could put Portia off, he fears. So, in all manners, he pleads with the lady not to be prejudiced against him for skin colour. He says, his blood is red as that of all humans – black or white, he has many military exploits to his credit.

Portia intercedes to assure the prince from Morocco that she takes a more holistic view of a man’s worth than his colour. She, however, laments that she has hardly any leeway in the matter, as she has to abide by what comes out of the ‘box’ test.

The royal Morocco thanks Portia for her assurances. Then he reels off the many victories he has own using his sword, and it is the same sword he would use today to summon the might, intuition, and wisdom needed to win the casket test. He exudes confidence in his own luck which brings unexpected bonanza at times. He cites how Hercules was defeated by Lychas, his servant in the game of dice simply because his servant’s luck sided with him on that occasion. He says that it would break his heart if someone less deserving won the casket test by dint of his luck.

Portia has some stern words to convey. Either the Moroccan wins the casket test and so her hand, or forsakes conjugal happiness throughout his life.

The Moroccan royal picks up the gauntlet, and agrees to remain a celibate in the event of his defeat.

Portia suggests that they visit the temple, and then have dinner before the visitor tries his luck.

The Moroccan agrees, brimming with confidence.

They exit.

Launcelot, the servant of Shylock, enters the scene. He knows the many crooked ways of his master and abhors him as a person. He is caught in a dilemma. His mind says that he should run away from the service under Shylock, but his conscience says it would be unethical and immoral. His conscience implores him to continue to serve his master, Shylock despite his many devilish traits.

Torn between his instinct and his inner voice, Launcelot is caught in a quandary.

Gobbo, the half-blind father of Launcelot enters the scene. Because of his poor vision, he can’t recognize his own son. Gobbo asks Launcelot to show him the way to Shylock’s home.

Launcelot gives him the direction through some left-right-left turn advice.

Gobbo, with his impaired sight finds the direction confusing. He asks Launcelot if he knew a young man called Launcelot working in the Shylock home.

In a hushed voice, Launcelot wants to know if Gobbo (his father) refers to a man named Master Launcelot.

Gobbo is humble to say that Launcelot is a young man born to a poor man, pointing to himself. The fate has been unkind to him as he is going to face the hardships of a long life.

Launcelot, no admirer of his father for his past deeds, does not want to be associated with his legacy.

Gobbo still insists that ‘Master Launcelot’ must not be undermined by calling him plain Launcelot.

Launcelot is clearly uncomfortable with his father’s presence. He wants to end the unpleasant encounter. To do this, he says, though falsely, that ‘Master’ Launcelot is dead.

Gobbo is gripped by despair, as he finds that there would be no heir to support him in his old age.

Launcelot virtually recoils with indignation. He identifies himself and gives vent to his displeasure of his father’s expectations of him.

Gobbo says he is half-blind and can’t recognize Launcelot.

Launcelot seethes in anger at his father who has led an immoral life. Clearly, Launcelot and his father are poles apart.

Gobbo refuses to admit that the young man before him is indeed Launcelot, his son.

Gobbo is shaken to the core. Perplexed and downcast with grief, he beseeches Launcelot to tell him for certain if his son is indeed dead.

With searching eyes, Launelot asks Gobbo if he really can’t recognize his son (Launcelot).

Gobbo reiterates that he can’t recognize him as his vision is too poor.

Launcelot pours out his venom at his father for whom he has no love or respect. Launcelot seeks Gobbo’s blessing, but acidly reminds him that a murder is a hard act to hide. Truth will unravel sooner than later.

Gobbo asks Launcelot to stand erect, and says that he is indeed the lost son.

Launcelot identifies himself correctly, and affirms that he was, is, and will be his dear son in future. Launcelot is gracious.

Launcelot’s candid admission leaves Gobbo flabbergasted.

Launcelot reminds his father that he is now a Jew’s servant, and is the son of Margery, the rightful wife of Gobbo.

Gobbo acts as if his heart overflows with affection. He caresses Laucelot’s head and face and says he has more hair than his horse, Dobblin.

Launcelot alludes to his long absence from home saying that Dobbin’s tail must be growing backward as the pony had more hair on his tail than he has on his face when he last saw him.

Gobbo is surprised to see how much Launcelot has changed in the period he has been away. Gobbo says that he has brought a present for Shylock.

Launcelot says he is all right. Then he drops a bombshell saying that he has decided to run away, and he needs to do it fast.  Quite irritably he says that his master’s a total Jew. He does not deserve to be given a present.  Quite disparagingly, he says that the Jew deserves a noose to hang himself.  Launcelot then says how his master keeps him half-fed. Due to lack of food, he is famished and his ribs are visible.

Saying these words, Launcelot says that the right deserving person is Bassanio, not the despicable Jew. I’m glad you’ve come, father. Give me your present to give to Master Bassanio. He is so generous that he gives his servants beautiful new uniforms.

Launcelot says he is looking forward to work under the caring Bassanio. Just around this time, Bassanio appears in the scene with Leonardo and one or two attendants.

He asks one of the attendants to go and arrange for the supper, order the uniforms, deliver the letters and ask Gratiano to come and visit him at the earliest.

Launcelot, embarrassed to approach Bassanio for a servant’s job. He asks his father to plead on his behalf.

Gobbo says that his son is fed up of his employer, the Jew Shylock. He comes forward to narrate the harrowing time he has under the Jew. He wants to work under Bassanio.

With so much of prompting and indirect talking, Bassanio is confused. He wants either G   obbo or Launcelot to clear the air.

Launcelot finally says what he needs – a job under Bassanio.

Things ease up surprisingly for Launcelot and Gobbo. Bassanio says he has already spoken to Shylock in the matter. In fact, it was Shylock who proffered the name of Launcelot as servant for Bassanio. He was humble enough to say that the choice was Launceot’s – a rich Jew as master or a poor merchant.

Launcelot cites the old proverb “The grace of God is enough.” He says that it could be divided between Bassanio and Shylock, with Bassanio getting “the grace of God,” and the Jew “enough.”

Bassanio appreciates Launcelot’s wit and grace.

He advises the father-son duo to and formally take leave of Shylock before joining him. He asks his attendant to give the new recruit a nice pair of uniform.

Launcelot is immensely happy and greatly relieved. He points to his father Gobbo that he has one of the most wretched fates. His palm lines show he will have umpteen wives to support, and he would almost drown  to death on a few occasions. He would be caught red-handed in the act of cuckolding and face the wrath of the husband. Despite all these ominous omens, he would escape calamity because his palm-lines have a escape route. He vows that he would never again work under a Jew.

Then he urges his father to hurry up for the       Jew’s wife, so that the formality of bidding good-bye to Shylock could be complete without delay.

Launcelot and his father leave.

Bassanio has made his purchases. These are the items he needs to carry to Portia. He hands over the list to

Leonardo. Bassanio appears to be in joyful mood. He says he is going for dinner that night, apparently with Antonio.

Leonardo says he would do his best.

Gratiano enters and looks around for Bassanio.  Spotting him, he pleads with him to accompany him to Belmont.

Bassanio accedes to Gratiano’s request readily, but advises him to be restrained, calm, and

Decent in Belmont, and not allow his boorish ways to show up.

Gratiano submits to Bassanio’s wishes and promises to rein in his boisterous instincts while in Belmont.

Bassanio good-humouredly agrees and says he will keep an eye on his ebullient friend.

Gratiano jokes that the restrictions do not apply for that night’s supper.

Bassanio says he must be his usual jovial self during the supper.

Gratiano hurries to join Lorenzo and the others, promising to be back for supper.


Act 2, Scene 3

Jessica is Shylock’s daughter. As the only other  member of the family, she suffers miserably at the hands of her phlegmatic father uninterested in anything other than money-lending. She is sorry at Launcelot’s leaving the household whom she looked forward to for some pleasant diversion from the humdrum of the Jre’s house. She is in love with Lorenzo, a Bassanio confidant. She gives a ducat to Launcelot as parting gift and secretly gives a letter to him to be given to Lorenzo. She does not want her father to see the two talking like this.

Launcelot becomes emotional as tears roll do9wn his eyes. Citing some curses against the Jew, he departs.

Jessica is plunged in thoughts. She resents being the daughter of a thoroughly reprehensible character like Shylock, and seeks deliverance from the disgrace by marrying her lover Lorenzo.

She exits.

Lorenzo too is restless for the marriage, and perceives Shylock to be an insurmountable hurdle. Shylock would never reconcile to his only daughter marrying a Christian, he knows. So, he thinks of ways to somehow do a clandestine operation so that Jessica could slip out of the house.

He thinks of a way for this secret mission. He thinks that Jessica could somehow sneak out of her house during supper time, hide in Lorenzo’s house where they both could wear some masks to hide their identities. After that, they can escape to get married secretly, away from Shylock’s clutches.

Gratiano is incredulous about the plan, since it has niot even been discussed.

Salarino thinks the same way too.

Sloanio has some sane advice. He fears that the plan to evade the Jew’s prying eyes could fizzle out leading to a major embarrassment and catastrophe for the lovers.

It is 4 O’clock and Lorenzo thinks he has to do everything in the next two hours.

Launcelot enters with a letter.

Lorenzo and Gratiano and he engage in some friendly banter about the contents of the letter from Jessica.

Launcelot wants to leave to invite his former employer, Shylock, to come for the evening supper with Bassanio and his friends.

Launcelot leaves.

Salarino, Solanio and Lorenzo decide to congregate in Shylock’s house.

Gratiano still wonders if the letter is indeed from Jessica.

Lorenzo now discloses the elopement plan hatched by Jessica and him. She would come disguised.

Lorenzo is confident the escape operation will be fruitful. And never be punished for her intention is noble. He hands over the letter to Gratiano to read for himself.

He says Jessica would lead him for the deliverance.


Act 2, Scene 5

Shylock says his final words to Launcelot. He calls out to Jessica to get up and get dressed.Jessica is slow in her response.

Launcelot calls out Jessica, which Shylock does not like.

Jessica enters. Shylock says that he is going to the supper quite hesitantly as he knows he is not very much liked by others there.

Saying this, he asks Jessica to keep the house key and keep an watch over everything. Shylock is in apprehensive mood as he has seen money bags in his dreams the previous night.

Launcelot urges his earlier master, Shylock to hurry up for the supper.

As expected, Shylock replies sarcastically. He knows his hosts have no love for him.

Launcelot drops hints that there could be a masquerade party organized by the hosts.

Seeing a bad omen, Shylock asks Jessica to be vigilant inside the house, and not even peep through the widow out of curiosity on seeing the people in the streets with masks.

He sets out to go for the supper.

Launcelot cryptically tells Jessica to be alert to come out on seeing him in the streets.

Launcelot exits.

Shylock is uncomfortable at Launcelot’s message to his daughter.

Jessica makes light of Launcelot’s parting advice.

Shylock can’t make sense of the plot well under way. Even after Launcelot’s leaving his service, he blisters at him, calling him slow and a glutton. He quips that Launcelot’s leaving him is good riddance.

While leaving for the supper, he reiterates his instructions to Jessica to guard the house sincerely.

Jessia murmurs that if luck sides with her she would escape leaving her father behind.

She exits

Act 2 Scene 6

Gratiano reaches the appointed spot.

There is no trace of Jessica and Launcelot. That worries Gratiano and Salarino.

They engage in some light banter about the jest and zeal of new lovers.

Gratiano cites many examples to show how excitement peters out after a person accomplishes something, like a man after a hearty meal, or a horse striding, or a ship returning from voyage.

Lorenzo arrives.  They stop talking.

Lorenzo begins to describe why he is late.

Just then Jessica arrives disguised as a boy, taking everyone by surprise.

Jessica and Lorenzo identify one another quickly and aver their mutual love and commitment.

Lorenzo has made plans for a masquerade, and wants Jessica to head the procession as the torch bearer.

Jessica declines the role, saying that the candle would expose her face more. Jessica feels guilty for eloping like this, and feels she must not do the noble role of the torch bearer who brings light and love. She feels she deserves to be hidden in the dark.

Lorenzo reassures her saying she is in disguise, and not recognizable by others.

Jessica hurries up to get in to her house to pick up some more ducats and lock it up before escaping.

Gratiano appreciates her forthrightness, adding that such a good person can not be a Jew.

Lorenzo adds to Gratiano’s adulation saying that Jessica is an embodiment of beauty, honesty and nobility.

They all, including Jessica, leave to join the masquerade.

Antonio and Gratiano meet each other.

It is 9, and Antonio is worried. He says all his friends are all waiting for Gratiano. There’s no masquerade tonight, he fumes. The wind is blowing right, so Bassanio’s going onboard immediately. Antonio says how worried he is for him.

Gratiano’s mood is upbeat.

Act 2, Scene 7

Portia asks her servant to show the caskets to the prince aspiring for her hand. The caskets become visible as the curtains are drawn apart.

It is time for the prince from Morocco to prove his mettle. He contemplates.

The first one, the gold one, has an inscription that says, “He who chooses me will get what many men want.” The second one, the silver one, says, “He who chooses me will get what he deserves.” And this third one is made of dull lead. It has a blunt warning that says, “He who chooses me must give and risk all he has.”

The Moroccan prince is lost in thought. He is baffled by the challenge. How would he know which casket is the right one to choose?

Portia drops a hint.

One of the caskets contains her picture. If he chooses that one, she will be his, along with the picture.

The prince from Morocco is caught in a quandary. He seeks divine help. He decides to read the inscription again. What does the lead box say? “He who chooses me must give and risk all he has.” He is totally confused by the riddle. He wonders if a worthless thing like lead can deserve all he has. He decides to skip the lead casket.

He proceeds to weigh the option of the silver casket.

It reads, “He who chooses me will get as much as he deserves.” Again the prince is plunged in confusion. He delves deeper into the description’s hidden meaning. He thinks, if his reputation is trustworthy, he deserves a lot. A feeling of self doubt grips him. He asserts, “He deserves Portia”.  In terms of wealth, talents, and upbringing, and especially love, he deserves her, he assures himself.

He thinks he must weigh the gold casket option before he took his call. The inscription on the gold casket reads, “He who chooses me will get what many men want.” He jumps in excitement as he feels it is time for the most momentous decision of his life. He reckons, “That’s Portia! Quite madly he sings her glory. The whole world wants her. They come from the four corners of the earth to kiss this shrine and see this living, breathing saint. Princes travel across deserts and the vast wilderness of Arabia to come see the beautiful Portia. The wide ocean doesn’t prevent them from coming to see her—they travel across it as if it were a little stream. One of these three boxes contains her lovely picture.”

He wonders if the lead one contains the picture? No, the lowly lead can’t have it, he reasons. He asks himself, “Is she enclosed in silver, which is ten times less valuable than gold?” Again he fumbles. Nobody ever set a gem like her in a worse setting than gold. They have a coin in England stamped with the figure of an angel, but that’s just engraved on the surface.

The prince of Morocco is caught in a whirlpool of desire, love, confusion, self-doubt and romance. Portia’s beauty has overwhelmed him.

He decides to go for the gold casket.

Portia offers him the key and says that if the picture is there, she belongs to him.

The prince opens the gold casket.

Instead of the picture, the prince finds a skull. He recoils in horror.

He finds these lines written on the skull.

“All that glitters is not gold—

You’ve often heard that said.

Many men have sold their souls

Just to view my shiny surface.

But gilded tombs contain worms.

If you’d been as wise as you were bold,

With an old man’s mature judgment,

You wouldn’t have had to read this scroll.

So goodbye—you lost your chance.”

The Moroccan prince is devastated. Heart-broken, he retreats from the scene gracefully and quickly.

The prince from Morocco exits with his entourage.

Portia is immensely relieved. She wishes that other contenders make the same mistake as the Prince of Morocco.

Act 2, Scene 8 ….

It seems Lorenzo and his beloved Jessica have fled in a gondola. The Jew is wild with fury. He has gone and complained to the duke about the deceit of Lorenzo and Jessica’s involvement in the plot.

The duke sets out in the sea to apprehend the duo, but he chases the wrong ship, that of Bassanio and Gratiano. Antonio assures the duke that the lover duo is not in Bassanio’s ship. Bassanio and Gratiano head towards Belmont to meet Portia.

Salarino and Solanio discuss the matter. Solanio describes how the Jew spewed fire at Lorenzo for the loss of his daughter and his money. That his daughter Jessica chose a Christian was like rubbing salt on his wound.

Salarino adds that the Jew is being jeered in the streets.

Solanio fears that the Jew, wounded and humiliated, might turn on Antonio if the later defaults.

Salarino has heard from a Frenchman that a Venetian ship has sunk with its cargo in the English Channel. He said he hopes that it is not Antonio’s ship.

Solanio suggests that his friend Salarino apprise Antonio about the accident, exercising due caution.

Salarino has seen how warmly Antonio wished good luck to Bassanio on his mission, advising him to be intelligent and wise in his race for Portia. Such a gesture speaks volumes about Antonio’s noble self.

Solanio and Salarino agree that Antonio has a heart of gold.

Act 2, Scene 9 ..

The prince of Arragon has arrived. He has taken his oath, and is coming forward to try his luck. Nerissa has the curtains quickly drawn.

Trumpets play. The Prince of Arragon, his entourage, and Portia enter.

Portia shows him the boxes. As usual, she says that he must choose the box having her picture inside to win her hand. If he failed in doing so, he must leave immediately.

Arragon promises to do three things. He wouldn’t tell anyone the box he chooses. If he chooses the wrong box, he will shun conjugal happiness all his life. Lastly, in case of failure, he would depart immediately.

Arragon is ready to try his luck. He is optimistic. He reads the writings on the boxes carefully.

Like the earlier contenders, he examines the sense of the writings incisively. After a lot of very careful evaluation, he chooses the casket that has this writing.  “He who chooses me will get what he deserves.”

Alas! It is the wrong box.

Arragon finds the picture of an idiot holding a scroll up for him to read! He reads it. It is a bitter anti-climax for him. He wonders how his reasoning and choice could go wrong.

Quite quickly and gracefully, he makes his exit.

Portia castigates the unsuccessful contenders, calling them ‘moths’ lured by candles that would devour them.

Nerissa says it is all written in destiny.

A messenger arrives in the scene to announce the coming of his master. The messenger has brought nice gifts sent by his master. He sings the praise of his master. Quite humbly he says that this servant (meaning himself) has arrived before his master the way a sweet spring day hints about a lush summer. He says it is a great auspicious day.

Portia stops the messenger from further eulogizing his master. She goes with Nerissa to see the contender.

—————————End of Act 2———————-

[To be continued with model questions and answers]


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4 Responses

  1. Sobhan says:

    Please write the explanation of ACT- III,IV,V of Merchant of Venice soon.
    I would be elated if you post the analysis of the poem “THE PROFESSOR” by Nissim Ezekiel.

  2. siddhi says:

    Satya Prakash sir, you have a great skill of english language.These articles are very helpful for us.Plz keep up these good works…

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