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Scenes 1.2 and 1.3

Scene 1.2 - Belmont

Entering the room where her husband will be chosen, Portia complains that she is weary of the world; her servant, Nerissa, argues that she is only spoiled by so much good fortune. Portia relates to Nerissa how her father, before his death, set up a system where her husband would be chosen by lottery; even after his death, she says, he still controls her fate. The set-up of the lottery is this: the candidates for marriage will have to choose between a gold, a silver, and a lead casket, and the one who chooses the right one will get to marry Portia. One by one, Nerissa names the men who want to marry Portia, and Portia responds with a criticism of each. The Neapolitan prince cares only about his horses, the powerful count is always serious, the French lord simply imitates what everyone else does, the English baron speaks only English, the Scottish lord got into a fight with the Englishman, the German duke's nephew is a vile man who's always drunk.
Nerissa argues that Portia doesn't have to worry about any of the men, since none of them wants to marry her if she is simply forced to by the lottery. Nothing would make her happier, Portia responds, than if they all left. Nerissa mentions a Venetian, a scholar and a soldier, named Bassanio, and Portia agrees that he is a good man. A servant enters and announces that four of her suitors have chosen to leave and that a new one, the Prince of Morocco, has arrived.

Scene 1.3 - Street in Venice

In Venice, Bassanio is in a heated discussion with Shylock, the Jewish moneylender. Bassanio wants three thousand ducats for three months, but Shylock insists on talking with Antonio, who will insure that the loan will be repaid. According to what Shylock has heard, all of Antonio's ships are at sea, and his business is in risk. Antonio then enters, and Shylock, speaking only to the audience, criticizes him for lending out money to his friends without interest, which cuts into Shylock's business. Antonio argues with Shylock that charging interest on loans ("usury") is immoral, but Shylock answers that it is a respectable practice, citing the story of Jacob in the Old Testament. Jacob made a bet with his uncle, in which he would receive no wages, but in exchange would get to keep all the multi-colored lambs born on the farm. Jacob then conceived a way to get the ewes to give birth to multi-colored lambs, thereby making a big profit because of his gamble. Antonio remarks, in response, that even evil men can argue from the Bible to defend their practices. And why should he lend Bassanio money, Shylock asks, since Antonio has always condemned him in public for profiting from usury? Antonio refuses to apologize - he has spit at him before, he says, and would do so again. He argues that if Shylock is going to lend this money, he should do so as a friend, not as a businessman.
Though he ridicules that argument, Shylock does in fact offer to lend the three-thousand ducats to Bassanio, without interest - but on one condition: he demands that Antonio sign a contract, agreeing that if he does not pay back the loan in exactly three months, Shylock will be allowed to cut off and take a pound of Antonio's flesh. Bassanio objects, arguing that it is a dangerous bargain and that he doesn't trust Shylock, but Shylock tells Bassanio that he has nothing to worry about: a pound of human flesh is worthless to him; he is making this offer in friendship. Antonio believes that his ships will surely be back by then, and therefore that he will have money to pay back the loan. Despite Bassanio's objections, Antonio agrees to the deal. He and Bassanio leave with Shylock, going to the notary to sign the contract.

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Historical Context
Main Characters
Points to Ponder
Did You Know
Plot Summary
Scene 1.1
Scenes 1.2 and 1.3
Scenes 2.1, 2.2, and 2.3
Scenes 2.4, 2.5, and 2.6
Scenes 2.7, 2.8, and 2.9
Scenes 3.1 and 3.2
Scenes 3.3, 3.4, and 3.5
Scenes 4.1 and 4.2
Scene 5.1


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