Summary of The Merchant of Venice

The Merchant of Venice

By William Shakespeare (1564-1616)

Summary of The Merchant of Venice

 The key concept about Shakespeare: He is famous for his 37 plays, 154 sonnets, and two long narrative poems such as “Venus and Adonis” is a narrative poem by William Shakespeare published in 1593, and “A Lover’s Complaint” is a narrative poem written by William Shakespeare, and published as part of the 1609 quarto of Shakespeare’s Sonnets.

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Key information of “The Merchant of Venice”

Genre: Comedy or Romantic comedy or Tragicomedy.

Time of composition: Between 1596 and 1597.

First performance: 1605.

Published date: Published in 1623 in the First Folio.

Time setting: 16th century Europe.

Place setting: Venice that is a commercial city in Italy. Belmont is a Fictitious city in Italy nearby Venice.

Note: The play is mostly famous for its dramatic scenes.


Friendship: Friendship is one of the striking themes of the comedy “The Merchant of Venice”. All the major characters preserve strong bondage of friendship but the most striking one is between Antonio and Bassanio.

Prejudice: Portia’s adherence to her father’s advice and Shylock’s revengeful attitude to Christians are the signs of prejudice.

Mercy: Shakespeare has focused that mercy is the most striking virtue of human beings.

Riddles: Riddles are connected to appearance and reality. This technique of Shakespeare has shown that an intelligent man is never seduced by the outer appearance and feels egoism and entitlement.

Lack of control: Almost all the major characters of the play do not have control in their way of life. Portia is in hurry for marriage and deeply frustrated till the casket puzzles are not solved. Shylock is restless for taking revenge on Antonio.

Justice: The dramatic trial scene of the play proves that Justice comes in the long run though it is sometimes delayed.


Caskets: Three caskets are the symbol of a father’s far-reaching concern for his daughter.

Gold: Gold is the symbol of status, wealth, and power in this materialistic world. But only wealth, power, and status cannot bring about happiness in conjugal life at all.

Rings: Rings symbolizes love and commitment between partners.

Blood and flesh: They signify life and existence.

Disguise: Disguise is always symbolic and allegorical in Shakespeare’s plays that basically focuses on the gender role and worth of women and side by side empowerment of women. Women are not at all the weaker sex.


Shylock: He is a Venetian usurer who takes a sign in a bond from Antonio as collateral so that he can cut a pound of flesh from any part of Antonio’s body.

Antonio: He is one of the central characters of the play and an exceptional Shakespearean hero without any heroin.

Portia: She is the creative genius of Shakespeare and the heroine of the play. She takes a camouflage of a scholar to defend Antonio from the thumb of the Venetian usurer Shylock like many other Shakespearean heroines. Portia gets married to Bassanio.

Bassanio: He is also one of the central characters of the play. He solves the casket puzzle left by Portia’s father for the purpose of choosing the right man as the husband of her daughter.

Gratiano: He is “too wild, too rude and bold of voice” friend of Bassanio and Antonio. He marries Portia’s servant Nerissa.

Nerissa: She is the intelligent servant and friend of Portia. She also takes disguise as the assistant of Portia who disguises in the name of Doctor Balthazar. Balthazar is actually the name of Portia’s male servant in the play.

Jessica: She is the beautiful daughter of Shylock who loves a Christian namely Lorenzo. Jessica has wisdom, fairness, and loyalty.

Salerio: When Jessica and Lorenza reach Portia’s house with Salerio who brings bad news for Bassanio that Antonio is arrested because of Shylock’s allegation against him.

Suitors of Portia

  1. Prince of Morocco chooses the gold casket and remarks “All that glitters is not gold”.
  2. Prince of Aragon chooses the silver casket which signifies egoism and entitlement.
  3. The scholar and soldier of Venice Bassanio choose the lead casket and he thus wins Portia.

Critical Summary

The play opens in the commercial city of Italy, Venice, with the tension of Antonio who is the most exceptional Shakespearean hero without having a heroine. Antonio is in tension because of his investment. He has invested all his property in shaky or uncertain ship merchants. Gratiano and Bassanio enter the scene. Bassanio tries to cheer up Antonio. Antonio replies that he does not know why he is in a sad mood. Then Bassanio requests Antonio to lend him a handsome amount so that he can be a wealthy suitor of the rich woman Portia. Bassanio sketches Portia in such a way “In Belmont is a lady richly left; And she is fair, and, fairer than that word, Of wondrous virtues:” Antonio tells Bassanio politely that he is in short of cash because of his investment but he allows Bassanio to take a loan from someone by using his credit.

Now the scene turns to Belmont. Portia in a frustrating tone asks her maidservant and friend Nerissa how many visitors will come today to solve the casket puzzle. She disappointedly asserts that she may remain ever-virgin because of this casket puzzle. An undetermined number of suitors such as an English lord, Scottish lord, a drunken German nobleman, and so on has already failed to solve the puzzle. Portia affirms Nerissa that whatever the situation she will follow her dead father’s wishes and she hopes that the Venetian scholar and soldier Bassanio will return to her to love her. Then a servant comes and informs Portia that the prince of Morocco has come to accept the casket puzzle.

Here in Venice, Bassanio goes to a Jewish usurer Shylock to borrow 3000 ducats, a gold coin formerly current in most European countries. Bassanio tells Shylock that he will repay the loan within three months. He also informs Shylock that his rich merchant friend Antonio will be the guarantor or bondsman of the loan. Getting the opportunity to avenge Antonio who called Shylock’s name abominably like a dog, Shylock makes a strong plan. He first plays with words and incites Antonio and then agrees to borrow without any interest.

Bassanio praises Shylock’s generosity but Shylock keeps a strange condition before Antonio. Shylock asserts that if the amount is not paid within a fixed time, he will cut a pound of flesh as collateral from any part of Antonio’s body. Antonio accepts this condition humorously but Bassanio disagrees. However, Antonio signs the bond.

Now the scene turns to Belmont in a decorated room of Portia’s house where the prince of Morocco has accepted the puzzle. The prince overconfidently declares that he will solve the puzzle after dinner.

From here, the scene turns to Venice. Gratiano requests Bassanio that he will accompany him to Belmont. Bassanio warns Gratiano to leave his talkative nature otherwise his plan to get favor from Portia will be destroyed.

Jessica who is the daughter of Shylock plans to elope in the disguise of a page or boy with a Christian namely Lorenzo. Lorenzo makes a plan with Gratiano when Shylock will come to the dinner invitation of Bassanio, he will go to Shylock’s house, and thus Jessica and he will elope with enough golds from Shylock’s repository. Jessica and Lorenzo request Bassanio to take them with him to Belmont but Bassanio forbids because they all may be caught.

Now the scene happens in Portia’s house. The prince of Morocco after dinner appears in front of the different caskets. The first, of gold, which this inscription bears: “Who chooses me shall gain what many men desire”; The second, silver, which this promise carries: “Who chooses me shall get as much as he deserves”; This third, dull lead, with a warning just as blunt: “Who chooses me must give and hazard all he has.”

Among the three caskets, one bears Portia’s picture. One who can be able to that casket will achieve Portia. The prince of Morocco chooses the wrong that means the gold casket by which Shakespeare has applied the proverb “All that glitters is not gold”.

Here in Venice, Shylock laments for his daughter’s elopement with Christian. The matter of utmost regret for Shylock that Jessica took the ring that was given to Shylock by his deceased wife. However, the prince of Aragon is in Portia’s house to solve the casket riddle. He eventually chooses the wrong silver casket which signifies egoism and entitlement.

Now Bassanio has arrived to meet the challenge. Portia is satisfied to see Bassanio who is in hurry to solve the casket complexity, but Portia tells him to wait for somedays. During these days, Bassanio has been able to express his pure love for Portia who is very happy and satisfied. On the day of solving the riddle, Portia prays to God for Bassanio’s success and Bassanio eventually chooses the right lead casket and wins Portia. Portia gives Bassanio a ring as a token of love and warns him not to lose it. Gratiano chooses Nerissa.

In the meantime, Jessica and Lorenza reach Portia’s house with Salerio who brings bad news for Bassanio that Antonio is arrested because of Shylock’s allegation against him. A piece of news has been spread throughout Venice that Antonio’s ships have been destroyed on the Ocean that is why Shylock has charged against Antonio to the Duke of Venice showing the bond.

Portia, hearing all from her husband, gives Bassanio 6000 ducats to repay the loan. Gratiano and Bassanio set out for Venice. On the other hand, Portia takes the camouflage of Doctor Balthazar and Nerissa as his assistance. Balthazar is the male servant of Portia.

Now the scene turns to the courtroom of the Duke of Venice. Shylock asserts that Antonio has been failed to repay the loan and according to the bond Shylock can now cut the pound of flesh from any part of Antonio’s body.

Doctor Balthazar first appeals to Shylock to show mercy for Antonio because mercy is its own reward. She goes on to respond to Shylock’s calls for justice by saying, “That in the course of justice none of us/Should see salvation. We do pray for mercy.” Shylock remains unmoved, just as he remains unmoved by Bassanio’s repeated offers to pay twice or 10 times the sum of the loan. Portia looks at the bond and urges Shylock to accept three times the amount of the loan. When he refuses again, Portia bids Antonio prepare for Shylock’s knife. She waits until Shylock approaches Antonio with the knife before stopping him and informing him that the bond allows him a pound of Antonio’s flesh, but it does not allow him any drop of Antonio’s blood. It is impossible for Shylock to take his pound of flesh without spilling blood. So, Shylock is found guilty of conspiring to commit murder against a citizen of Venice. He could receive the death penalty for this crime, but the duke spares his life. The duke takes half of Shylock’s fortune for the state and gives the other half to Antonio. Antonio asks the court to drop the fine of half his goods to the state and says he will give his own half of Shylock’s fortune to Lorenzo and Jessica upon Shylock’s death. He requires Shylock to leave any of his own possessions to Lorenzo and Jessica upon his death as well and that Shylock convert to Christianity. Shylock agrees to these terms and leaves the court.

Now Antonio is free. Bassanio, Gratiano, and Antonio meet the Doctor outside court. Bassanio offers money to Balthazar who refuses money but claims the ring of Bassanio. Bassanio does not agree to confer his ring but he is persuaded by Antonio to provide the ring to the generous doctor. Bassanio gives his ring to Balthazar.

After taking signature from Shylock, Balthazar and his assistance return to Belmont. Portia warns his servants and Jessica and Lorenza to keep secret about their disguise. Gratiano, Bassanio, and Antonio reach Belmont. Portia is happy now to see her husband and Antonio free.

Portia asks her husband about the ring. Bassanio tries to convince his wife but she is very upset about the ring as it is the token of her love. She blames her husband to sleep with an illegal woman. Then Antonio asserts that he is responsible for all. Portia gives the ring to Antonio to give it to Bassanio. Bassanio is surprised to see the ring. Portia makes fun by telling that the Doctor came to Belmond and she slept with the Doctor who gifted her the ring.

The final scene of the comedy discloses the secret of disguise. Portia gives Lorenza the bond that secures half of Shylock’s wealth for him after the death of his father-in-law. Portia also informs Antonio that his three ships have anchored in the port of Venice after a lucrative business.

SR Sarker
SR Sarker
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