The Merchant of Venice - Act 1 - Plot


These slides present an easy-to-follow overview of the events of Act 1, Scenes 1-3 of Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice. Antonio, Bassanio, Shylock and Portia are introduced. The bond is agreed for a pound of flesh.
bill fingleton
Slide Set by bill fingleton, updated more than 1 year ago
bill fingleton
Created by bill fingleton over 5 years ago

Resource summary

Slide 2

    Act 1 Scene 1
    The play opens by introducing Antonio - the merchant of the title - who meets with a group of his friends: first Salarino, and Salanio and later Lorenzo, Gratiano and Bassanio.  Their conversations tell us of Antonio's fortunes, currently tied up in assets at sea. We also learn of Antonio's mood, which has been pensive of late. A number of reasons are offered - perhaps he is in love? perhaps because he is naturally melancholic? We learn that Gratiano is never moody, because he too often plays the fool. Most leave. Bassanio and Antonio remain, where Bassanio tells his friend of his plan to woo Portia of Belmont. He requires a loan to do so. Not for the first time, Antonio agrees to help his friend. Having no cash to hand, he grants permission to seek a loan using Antonio's name to guarantee the loan.  

Slide 3

    Act 1 Scene 2
    Belmont - Portia talks with her adviser and friend, Narissa. They discuss the terms of her father's will, which stipulates that Portia must marry a worthy suitor. Her father has left a test. The contest is open to all suitors, who are encouraged to choose from three boxes: one of gold, one of silver and one of lead. Each box is marked by a riddle. Portia is strong-minded and unconvinced of the test, but she will respect her father's wishes.  Portia and Nerissa then discuss a list of men who have already tried to court her -  a Neapolitan prince; the County Palatine; a French lord, Monsieur Le Bon; a young English baron, Falconbridge; a Scottish lord; the Duke of Saxony's nephew and a young German. Portia points out the faults with each one - every dismissal designed to show Portia's wit and intelligence, as well as providing cultural comic relief. All nations are lampooned within Portia's rebukes.  Nerissa reminds Portia about Bassanio, who once visited Belmont before her father had died. Bassanio is described as a soldier and a scholar and is considered by both to have been excellent marriage material. 

Slide 4

Slide 5

    Act 1 Scene 3
    This scene introduces us to Shylock, who is traditionally seen as the principal focus of The Merchant of Venice - the odd character out in a romantic comedy. Shylock is a moneylender living in a Jewish ghetto and, even though Bassanio requires his assistance in the form of a loan for 3000 ducats, there is a measure of disdain in the way he speaks to him - generally taken as anti-Semitism common to the period.   Shylock, for his part, has no love for Christians either. He is particularly hostile to Antonio and his group of friends, one of whom is Lorenzo, an unwelcome suitor to Shylock's daughter, Jessica. Antonio and Shylock have clashed in the past over the subject of usury. Antonio professes that he would not charge interest on a loan. However, as a Jew, Shylock has few options to gain an income, so he must charge interest. Shylock regrets that he must charge a low rate because of men like Antonio.  The scene becomes heated as Bassanio, Antonio and Shylock discuss the terms of the loan. Shylock tells Antonio that, even though he has called him a 'cutthroat dog' and spat upon him, he will charge him no interest, because he wishes the loan to be friendly. He will, however, insert a penalty clause in the contract, which states that Shylock is owed a pound of Antonio's flesh in the event of default.  Bassanio is horrified at the forfeit, but Antonio agrees, sure that one of his many merchant vessels will have returned to Venice by the end of three months - the length of the contract.  The scene contrasts the cavalier nature of Antonio and co. against the pragmatic and embittered outlook of Shylock. Yes, he has been introduced as the villain, but a villain with motivations we can understand and a greater depth than almost all of the other characters.  

Slide 6

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