Merchant of Venice


An Early Festive Comedy

Written between 1596-97

First performed in 1600.

In a street of Venice, the merchant Antonio laments that he is sad but knows not why. His friends, Solanio and Salerio try to cheer him up, to no avail. More friends, Lorenzo and Gratiano also try and fail. Antonio's friend, Bassanio, informs him that he intends to seek the wealthy Portia's hand in marriage, yet needs financial backing. Antonio, though reluctant, offers Bassanio 3,000 ducats (money) to help him. At Belmont, Portia's house, she laments to her servant, Nerissa, that she fears a suitor she dislikes will pursue her hand in marriage. Per her late father's will, the suitor must choose the correct of three chests (gold, silver, and lead), and then, if correct, he may marry Portia. She likes none of her six suitors, but wishes Bassanio would come and choose the correct chest. Back in Venice, after much begging, Bassanio convinces the merchant Shylock the Jew to lend him 3000 ducats, with Antonio putting up his property as the bond. Although Shylock hates Antonio, he lends the money anyway, hoping Antonio will default on the loan. Antonio, though, has confidence one of his ocean vessels will come to port one month before the three month deadline.

The Moroccan prince arrives at Belmont to woo Portia and learns that if he chooses the wrong chest, he must swear to never ask any woman to marry him. Back in Venice, Launcelot Gobbo, a clown and Shylock's servant, tells his father, old Gobbo, that he wishes to leave Shylock and work for Bassanio. Bassanio agrees to it and instructs his servant Leonardo to prepare dinner for him and Shylock. Gratiano then arrives and tells Bassanio he'll help him win over Portia. Shylock's daughter, Jessica, gives a love letter to Launcelot to deliver to Antonio's Christian friend Lorenzo. In the letter, Lorenzo learns that Jessica will pretend to be a male torchbearer for him at the supper between Antonio and Shylock. Shylock, going to the supper, leaves his house keys with his daughter, Jessica, warning her not to take part in the evening's Christian activities. Later that night, Gratiano, Salerio, and Lorenzo meet outside Shylock's house to get Jessica. After Lorenzo and Jessica unite, they all head to meet Bassanio on Antonio's ship to sail to Portia's. At Portia's house, the Moroccan prince chooses a chest to open. Each has an inscription, and only the correct one contains Portia's picture. He chooses incorrectly (the gold one), and leaves defeated. Salerio assures Solanio that Lorenzo and Jessica were not on the ship with Bassanio and Gratiano, and they are thus missing. Shylock, of course, wants his money and his daughter back. At Portia's house, the Prince of Aragon arrives and chooses the silver chest, also the wrong one. Again, he must swear to never woo any maid in marriage and to never tell a soul which chest he opened.

Solanio and Salerio confirm that Antonio's ship has sunk. They then make fun of Shylock for his predicament of losing his daughters. Shylock then laments of his monetary loss to another Jew, Tubal, yet rejoices that Antonio is sure to default on his loan. At Portia's house, she begs Bassanio to wait in choosing so that she may spend time with him, in case he chooses wrong. He correctly chooses the lead casket, though, and wins Portia's hand in marriage. To seal the union, Portia gives Bassanio a ring, warning that he should never lose it or give it away, lest he risk losing her love for him. Gratiano then announces his intention to wed Nerissa. Next, Salerio, Lorenzo, and Jessica arrive, informing Bassanio that Antonio lost his ships, and, furthermore, that Shylock is viciously declaring forfeiture of the bond by Antonio. Bassanio leaves for Venice to repay the loan. In Venice, Shylock has Antonio arrested for failure to repay the loan. At Belmont, Portia tells Lorenzo and Jessica to manage her house while she and Nerissa go to a monastery until Bassanio returns. In fact, though, she and Nerissa will disguise themselves as young men and travel to Venice.

At a Venetian court, the Duke presides over the sentencing hearing of Antonio wherein Shylock intends to cut "a pound of flesh from Antonio's breast" since the due date has past and that was the terms of the bond, even though Bassanio offers him 6,000 ducats for repayment. Nerissa and Portia, disguised as a court clerk and doctor of civil law respectively, arrive at the court. Gratiano, Bassanio, the Duke, and Portia try to dissuade Shylock, to no avail. Yet, Portia points out that the deed calls for no blood to be shed and exactly one pound to be taken, lest Shylock be guilty of not following the bond himself. Shylock, realizing this is impossible, recants and simply requests 9,000 ducats. Portia then reveals that Shylock is himself guilty of a crime; namely, conspiring to kill another citizen, i.e. Antonio. As punishment, the Duke and Antonio decide that Shylock must give half his belongings to the court; keep the other half for himself and promise to give all his remaining belongings to his daughter and son-in-law (Lorenzo) upon his death; and become a Christian. With no other choice, Shylock agrees. As Portia (as the doctor of civil law) leaves, Bassanio offers her a monetary gift. Portia turns this down, instead requesting Bassanio's gloves and wedding ring instead. Bassanio, due to his vow, hesitates on the ring, but reluctantly gives it after much prodding by Antonio. Nerissa (disguised as a court clerk), vows to try to get her husband (Gratiano) to give her his wedding ring.

At Belmont, Lorenzo and Jessica share a peaceful night together. The next morning, Bassanio and Portia, and Gratiano and Nerissa reunite. After quarreling over the loss of rings, the women admit of their ruse and return the rings to their husbands. Further, they inform Antonio that three of his ships have come to port full of merchandise. Finally, they give the deed to Jessica and Lorenzo promising to give them Shylock's money and possessions upon his death.

Squander some of your time in this timeless story and you will be amazed by the profound world of love and controversy...You will never fail to learn from Shakespeare's work.--Submitted by jing

William Shakespeare has always held a fascination for me and one could wonder how easily he could twist and twirl the flow of human lives in his characters. The Merchant of Venice is not just a book that talks about the everyday merchant of Venice alone but it brings to mind the actual characteristic weaknesses, strengths, and beauty of the human world. The weakness is characterised by Shylock's greediness and eventual fall, Antonio's love for his friend, and the nonchalant attitude or should I say ignorance to the wickedness of an enemy--failure to be on guard--that almost cost him his life. Shylock's daughter, Bassanio, Antonio, Portia, Nerissa, et al were happy at the end of the play. The beauty of it is the knowledge that one could truly bend life situations as is the case with Portia, who surprises everyone with such an unexpected turn of situation, bending Shylock even when he thought he had bended Antonio to a point of no return. Merchant is a great work of art and is a pointer to all those who feel they've got it sorted out because one could be surprised.--Submitted by dolapo

The Merchant of Venice is a very good play by Shakespeare. It actually sounds like a tragic play to me because Shylock ends in a tragedy. The Merchant of Venice is a righteous play which displays true friendship and love.--Submitted by Onion

Free preview
Act 1, Scene I



In sooth, I know not why I am so sad:

It wearies me; you say it wearies you;

But how I caught it, found it, or came by it,

What stuff 'tis made of, whereof it is born,

I am to learn;

And such a want-wit sadness makes of me,

That I have much ado to know myself.


Your mind is tossing on the ocean;

There, where your argosies with portly sail,

Like signiors and rich burghers on the flood,

Or, as it were, the pageants of the sea,

Do overpeer the petty traffickers,

That curtsy to them, do them reverence,

As they fly by them with their woven wings.


Believe me, sir, had I such venture forth,

The better part of my affections would

Be with my hopes abroad. I should be still

Plucking the grass, to know where sits the wind,

Peering in maps for ports and piers and roads;

And every object that might make me fear

Misfortune to my ventures, out of doubt

Would make me sad.


My wind cooling my broth

Would blow me to an ague, when I thought

What harm a wind too great at sea might do.

I should not see the sandy hour-glass run,

But I should think of shallows and of flats,

And see my wealthy Andrew dock'd in sand,

Vailing her high-top lower than her ribs

To kiss her burial. Should I go to church

And see the holy edifice of stone,

And not bethink me straight of dangerous rocks,

Which touching but my gentle vessel's side,

Would scatter all her spices on the stream,

Enrobe the roaring waters with my silks,

And, in a word, but even now worth this,

And now worth nothing? Shall I have the thought

To think on this, and shall I lack the thought

That such a thing bechanced would make me sad?

But tell not me; I know, Antonio

Is sad to think upon his merchandise.


Believe me, no: I thank my fortune for it,

My ventures are not in one bottom trusted,

Nor to one place; nor is my whole estate

Upon the fortune of this present year:

Therefore my merchandise makes me not sad.


Why, then you are in love.


Fie, fie!


Not in love neither? Then let us say you are sad,

Because you are not merry: and 'twere as easy

For you to laugh and leap and say you are merry,

Because you are not sad. Now, by two-headed Janus,

Nature hath framed strange fellows in her time:

Some that will evermore peep through their eyes

And laugh like parrots at a bag-piper,

And other of such vinegar aspect

That they'll not show their teeth in way of smile,

Though Nestor swear the jest be laughable.



Here comes Bassanio, your most noble kinsman,

Gratiano and Lorenzo. Fare ye well:

We leave you now with better company.


I would have stay'd till I had made you merry,

If worthier friends had not prevented me.


Your worth is very dear in my regard.

I take it, your own business calls on you

And you embrace the occasion to depart.


Good morrow, my good lords.


Good signiors both, when shall we laugh? say, when?

You grow exceeding strange: must it be so?


We'll make our leisures to attend on yours.

Exeunt Salarino and Salanio


My Lord Bassanio, since you have found Antonio,

We two will leave you: but at dinner-time,

I pray you, have in mind where we must meet.


I will not fail you.


You look not well, Signior Antonio;

You have too much respect upon the world:

They lose it that do buy it with much care:

Believe me, you are marvellously changed.


I hold the world but as the world, Gratiano;

A stage where every man must play a part,

And mine a sad one.


Let me play the fool:

With mirth and laughter let old wrinkles come,

And let my liver rather heat with wine

Than my heart cool with mortifying groans.

Why should a man, whose blood is warm within,

Sit like his grandsire cut in alabaster?

Sleep when he wakes and creep into the jaundice

By being peevish? I tell thee what, Antonio--

I love thee, and it is my love that speaks--

There are a sort of men whose visages

Do cream and mantle like a standing pond,

And do a wilful stillness entertain,

With purpose to be dress'd in an opinion

Of wisdom, gravity, profound conceit,

As who should say 'I am Sir Oracle,

And when I ope my lips let no dog bark!'

O my Antonio, I do know of these

That therefore only are reputed wise

For saying nothing; when, I am very sure,

If they should speak, would almost damn those ears,

Which, hearing them, would call their brothers fools.

I'll tell thee more of this another time:

But fish not, with this melancholy bait,

For this fool gudgeon, this opinion.

Come, good Lorenzo. Fare ye well awhile:

I'll end my exhortation after dinner.


Well, we will leave you then till dinner-time:

I must be one of these same dumb wise men,

For Gratiano never lets me speak.


Well, keep me company but two years moe,

Thou shalt not know the sound of thine own tongue.


Farewell: I'll grow a talker for this gear.


Thanks, i' faith, for silence is only commendable

In a neat's tongue dried and a maid not vendible.



Is that any thing now?


Gratiano speaks an infinite deal of nothing, more

than any man in all Venice. His reasons are as two

grains of wheat hid in two bushels of chaff: you

shall seek all day ere you find them, and when you

have them, they are not worth the search.


Well, tell me now what lady is the same

To whom you swore a secret pilgrimage,

That you to-day promised to tell me of?


'Tis not unknown to you, Antonio,

How much I have disabled mine estate,

By something showing a more swelling port

Than my faint means would grant continuance:

Nor do I now make moan to be abridged

From such a noble rate; but my chief care

Is to come fairly off from the great debts

Wherein my time something too prodigal

Hath left me gaged. To you, Antonio,

I owe the most, in money and in love,

And from your love I have a warranty

To unburden all my plots and purposes

How to get clear of all the debts I owe.


I pray you, good Bassanio, let me know it;

And if it stand, as you yourself still do,

Within the eye of honour, be assured,

My purse, my person, my extremest means,

Lie all unlock'd to your occasions.


In my school-days, when I had lost one shaft,

I shot his fellow of the self-same flight

The self-same way with more advised watch,

To find the other forth, and by adventuring both

I oft found both: I urge this childhood proof,

Because what follows is pure innocence.

I owe you much, and, like a wilful youth,

That which I owe is lost; but if you please

To shoot another arrow that self way

Which you did shoot the first, I do not doubt,

As I will watch the aim, or to find both

Or bring your latter hazard back again

And thankfully rest debtor for the first.


You know me well, and herein spend but time

To wind about my love with circumstance;

And out of doubt you do me now more wrong

In making question of my uttermost

Than if you had made waste of all I have:

Then do but say to me what I should do

That in your knowledge may by me be done,

And I am prest unto it: therefore, speak.


In Belmont is a lady richly left;

And she is fair, and, fairer than that word,

Of wondrous virtues: sometimes from her eyes

I did receive fair speechless messages:

Her name is Portia, nothing undervalued

To Cato's daughter, Brutus' Portia:

Nor is the wide world ignorant of her worth,

For the four winds blow in from every coast

Renowned suitors, and her sunny locks

Hang on her temples like a golden fleece;

Which makes her seat of Belmont Colchos' strand,

And many Jasons come in quest of her.

O my Antonio, had I but the means

To hold a rival place with one of them,

I have a mind presages me such thrift,

That I should questionless be fortunate!


Thou know'st that all my fortunes are at sea;

Neither have I money nor commodity

To raise a present sum: therefore go forth;

Try what my credit can in Venice do:

That shall be rack'd, even to the uttermost,

To furnish thee to Belmont, to fair Portia.

Go, presently inquire, and so will I,

Where money is, and I no question make

To have it of my trust or for my sake.


SCENE II: Belmont. A room in PORTIA'S house.



By my troth, Nerissa, my little body is aweary of

this great world.


You would be, sweet madam, if your miseries were in

the same abundance as your good fortunes are: and

yet, for aught I see, they are as sick that surfeit

with too much as they that starve with nothing. It

is no mean happiness therefore, to be seated in the

mean: superfluity comes sooner by white hairs, but

competency lives longer.


Good sentences and well pronounced.


They would be better, if well followed.


If to do were as easy as to know what were good to

do, chapels had been churches and poor men's

cottages princes' palaces. It is a good divine that

follows his own instructions: I can easier teach

twenty what were good to be done, than be one of the

twenty to follow mine own teaching. The brain may

devise laws for the blood, but a hot temper leaps

o'er a cold decree: such a hare is madness the

youth, to skip o'er the meshes of good counsel the

cripple. But this reasoning is not in the fashion to

choose me a husband. O me, the word 'choose!' I may

neither choose whom I would nor refuse whom I

dislike; so is the will of a living daughter curbed

by the will of a dead father. Is it not hard,

Nerissa, that I cannot choose one nor refuse none?


Your father was ever virtuous; and holy men at their

death have good inspirations: therefore the lottery,

that he hath devised in these three chests of gold,

silver and lead, whereof who chooses his meaning

chooses you, will, no doubt, never be chosen by any

rightly but one who shall rightly love. But what

warmth is there in your affection towards any of

these princely suitors that are already come?


I pray thee, over-name them; and as thou namest

them, I will describe them; and, according to my

description, level at my affection.


First, there is the Neapolitan prince.


Ay, that's a colt indeed, for he doth nothing but

talk of his horse; and he makes it a great

appropriation to his own good parts, that he can

shoe him himself. I am much afeard my lady his

mother played false with a smith.


Then there is the County Palatine.


He doth nothing but frown, as who should say 'If you

will not have me, choose:' he hears merry tales and

smiles not: I fear he will prove the weeping

philosopher when he grows old, being so full of

unmannerly sadness in his youth. I had rather be

married to a death's-head with a bone in his mouth

than to either of these. God defend me from these



How say you by the French lord, Monsieur Le Bon?


God made him, and therefore let him pass for a man.

In truth, I know it is a sin to be a mocker: but,

he! why, he hath a horse better than the

Neapolitan's, a better bad habit of frowning than

the Count Palatine; he is every man in no man; if a

throstle sing, he falls straight a capering: he will

fence with his own shadow: if I should marry him, I

should marry twenty husbands. If he would despise me

I would forgive him, for if he love me to madness, I

shall never requite him.


What say you, then, to Falconbridge, the young baron

of England?


You know I say nothing to him, for he understands

not me, nor I him: he hath neither Latin, French,

nor Italian, and you will come into the court and

swear that I have a poor pennyworth in the English.

He is a proper man's picture, but, alas, who can

converse with a dumb-show? How oddly he is suited!

I think he bought his doublet in Italy, his round

hose in France, his bonnet in Germany and his

behavior every where.


What think you of the Scottish lord, his neighbour?


That he hath a neighbourly charity in him, for he

borrowed a box of the ear of the Englishman and

swore he would pay him again when he was able: I

think the Frenchman became his surety and sealed

under for another.


How like you the young German, the Duke of Saxony's nephew?


Very vilely in the morning, when he is sober, and

most vilely in the afternoon, when he is drunk: when

he is best, he is a little worse than a man, and

when he is worst, he is little better than a beast:

and the worst fall that ever fell, I hope I shall

make shift to go without him.


If he should offer to choose, and choose the right

casket, you should refuse to perform your father's

will, if you should refuse to accept him.


Therefore, for fear of the worst, I pray thee, set a

deep glass of rhenish wine on the contrary casket,

for if the devil be within and that temptation

without, I know he will choose it. I will do any

thing, Nerissa, ere I'll be married to a sponge.


You need not fear, lady, the having any of these

lords: they have acquainted me with their

determinations; which is, indeed, to return to their

home and to trouble you with no more suit, unless

you may be won by some other sort than your father's

imposition depending on the caskets.


If I live to be as old as Sibylla, I will die as

chaste as Diana, unless I be obtained by the manner

of my father's will. I am glad this parcel of wooers

are so reasonable, for there is not one among them

but I dote on his very absence, and I pray God grant

them a fair departure.


Do you not remember, lady, in your father's time, a

Venetian, a scholar and a soldier, that came hither

in company of the Marquis of Montferrat?


Yes, yes, it was Bassanio; as I think, he was so called.


True, madam: he, of all the men that ever my foolish

eyes looked upon, was the best deserving a fair lady.


I remember him well, and I remember him worthy of

thy praise.

Enter a Serving-man

How now! what news?


The four strangers seek for you, madam, to take

their leave: and there is a forerunner come from a

fifth, the Prince of Morocco, who brings word the

prince his master will be here to-night.


If I could bid the fifth welcome with so good a

heart as I can bid the other four farewell, I should

be glad of his approach: if he have the condition

of a saint and the complexion of a devil, I had

rather he should shrive me than wive me. Come,

Nerissa. Sirrah, go before.

Whiles we shut the gates

upon one wooer, another knocks at the door.


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