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Friday, December 10, 2010

Merchant of Venice: Storyline

Once, there lived two good friends in Venice: Antonio, a merchant and Bassanio, a young man about town. Bassanio is desperately in need of money to go to Belmont and court Portia, a wealthy heiress. He therefore asks Antonio to lend him three thousand ducats.

Antonio is however short of funds as all his money is tied up in merchandise at sea. Hence, he suggests him to secure a loan from Shylock, a wealthy Jewish moneylender of the town, naming him as the guarantor for the loan. Antonio and Shylock dislike each other: Antonio, because he dislikes the usury that Jews practice and Shylock is a Jew; and Shylock because Antonio lends money with no interest, which he considers as detrimental to his lending business. However, on this occasion, Shylock agrees to lend money without charge but with a peculiar condition: should the loan go unpaid, he will be entitled to a pound of Antonio’s flesh. Despite Bassanio’s protest, Antonio agrees to the condition and takes the loan.

Bassanio then leaves for Belmont with his friend, Gratiano. In Belmont suitors are coming from four corners of world—including Prince of Morocco and prince of Aragon—to win Portia’s hand at the casket test that her father set in his will by choosing the right casket in which Portia’s photo is placed, but fail in it. Finally, Bassanio succeeds in choosing the right casket thus winning the bride. Portia rejoices at the success of Bassanio and presents him a ring as a token of her love and makes him swear that he will never part with it. Gratiano too confesses his love for Nerissa, the maid of Portia, and takes her as his bride. Similarly, she presents a ring to Graziano.

Back in Venice, Shylock’s daughter Jessica elopes with her lover Lorenzo, a Christian along with the money and jewels of her father that she has stolen. Unexpectedely, they join Portia and Bassanio in Belmont.

Meanwhile, news comes that Antonio lost his ships. Hearing this news, Shylock, distressed at the loss of his daughter and the constant berating of Jews by the Christians, decides to demand payment of the forfeit. Knowing which, Bassanio and Gratiano, cutting short the wedding celebrations, rush to Venice with the money Portia gives to pay off Antonio’s debt and set him free. Thereafter, Portia decides to go to Venice with Nerissa disguised as men to save Antonio.

As the trial presided over by the Duke of Venice is on, Portia enters the court to defend Antonio disguised as a young man of law. Portia first pleads with Shylock to show mercy. When that is not forthcoming, she asks him to accept double the amount. But Shylock remains stubborn with his demand for his rightful pound of flesh. Then examining the bond, Portia declares that Shylock is entitled to Antonio’s flesh and asks Antonio to be prepared for it. This pronouncement of Portia makes Shylock praise her wisdom, all in ecstasy. As he is getting ready to collect his due, Portia reminds him that he must collect his pound of flesh without causing Antonio to bleed for the contract offers no right to his blood.     

Realizing the trap, Shylock hurriedly agrees to take the money offered by Bassanio.But Portia insists that Shylock must take what the bond offers or nothing at all. Then, she pleads with the court that since Shylock is guilty of conspiring against the life of a Venetian citizen, he must pass on half of his wealth to the state and the remaining half to Antonio. The Duke, however, spares his life and takes a fine instead of his property. Antonio too forgoes his half but subject to Shylock converting to Christianity and willing his entire estate to his daughter Jessica and her husband Lorenzo. Agreeing to the conditions, Shylock leaves the court.

Bassanio then thanks Portia profusely for saving his friend's life and entreats her to accept fee. She refuses any fee, instead asks for the ring on his finger. Eventually under the pressure of Antonio, he gives the ring that he promised never to part with to Portia. So is the case with Graziano. Then, both the ladies rush back to Belmont.

When Bassanio and Antonio arrive at Belmont next day, they ask for the missing rings. And also accuse them of giving them faithlessly to other women. However, before it goes too far, they reveal the truth of Portia's participation in the trial. Ultimately, the play ends happily with the news that  Antonio's ships arrive at the dock in tact.


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