Merchant of Venice Act 3 Scenes 1 to 5 Summary

Antonia Blankenberg
Note by Antonia Blankenberg, updated more than 1 year ago
Antonia Blankenberg
Created by Antonia Blankenberg about 3 years ago


Part of our series exploring the Merchant of Venice, this study note contains summary and analysis of Act 3 Scenes. Antonio's fate seems sealed as his ships wreck and he is arrested whilst Bassanio wins Portia's hand.

Resource summary

Page 1

Act 3 - Scene 1

Act 3 opens with Salarino and Solanio discussing rumours that another one of Antonio's ships has been wrecked.    Shylock enters and lashes out at both of the men, accusing them of being involved with Jessica's elopement. The two men proudly take credit for their role in Jessica’s elopement and mock him for his metaphor when he complains that his "flesh and blood" has rebelled.   Shylock confirms that Antonio's ship has wrecked and is determined to collect his bond from Bassanio's loan and take revenge on Antonio. Shylock says Antonio has mistreated him solely because he is a Jew, but now he is determined to apply the lessons of hatred and revenge that Christian intolerance has taught him.   A servant enters then and informs Solanio and Salarino that Antonio wishes to see them at his house. They depart as Tubal, a friend of Shylock, enters. Tubal announces that he was unable to find Jessica and rages against his daughter, and he wishes her dead as he bemoans his losses. He becomes particularly angry when Tubal reports that Jessica has taken a ring that was given to Shylock in his youth by a woman named Leah (presumably Jessica’s mother) and has traded that ring for a monkey.    Tubal reminds Shylock of Antonio's recent bad luck and Shylock becomes happy again. Tubal assures Shylock that Antonio's credit is ruined. Shylock agrees and instructs Tubal to pay a police sergeant in advance to arrest Antonio if he forfeits the bond.   Analysis: The passage of time in The Merchant of Venice is peculiar. In Venice, the three months that Antonio has to pay the debt go by quickly, while only days seem to pass in Belmont. Shakespeare juggles these differing chronologies by using Salarino and Solanio as a Chorus device to fill in the missing time.   The news of danger to Antonio's ships prepares foreshadows the entrance of Shylock, the embodiment of that danger, who has by now discovered Jessica's elopement.   The malicious digs of Solanio and Salarino produce one of Shylock's most dramatic speeches in the play. In the speech, which is written in prose, Shylock's series of accusing, rhetorical questions (from "Hath not a Jew eyes?" to "If you poison us, do we not die?") completely silences Shylock's tormentors.    Shylock begins his speech by eloquently reminding the Venetians that all people, even those who are not part of the majority culture, are human too. A Jew is the same as a Christian, and is subject to the same pains and comforts and emotions. However, the speech is not a celebration of shared experience. Instead of using reason to elevate himself above his tormenters, Shylock delivers a monologue that allows him to sink to their level: he plans to behave as villainously as they have. The audience is not meant to sympathise entirely with Shylock: he may have been wronged, but he lacks mercy. By the end of the scene, the audience is convinced that Shylock's attack on Antonio will be absolutely relentless.    Important Quotes: "I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions; fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer as a Christian is? If you prick us do we not bleed? If you tickle us do we not laugh? If you poison us do we not die? And if you wrong us shall we not revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that. If a Jew wrong a Christian, what is his humility? Revenge. If a Christian wrong a Jew, what should his sufferance be by Christian example? Why, revenge. The villainy you teach me I will execute, and it shall go hard but I will better the instruction. " - Shylock   " I would my daughter were dead at my foot and the jewels in her ear! Would she were hearsed at my foot and the ducats in her coffin! " - Shylock

Page 2

Act 3 - Scene 2

Back in Belmont, Portia tries to convince Bassanio to delay choosing a casket so they can stay together longer. Bassanio insists that he make his choice then to avoid prolonging the torment of living without Portia as his wife. Portia allows it,  comparing Bassanio to the Greek hero and demigod Hercules, and tells her servants that this choice is no ordinary choice; therefore, she would like music to be played while he decides.   Bassanio carefully examines the three caskets and puzzles over their inscriptions. He rejects the gold and silver caskets and chooses the one made of lead, which he opens to reveal Portia’s portrait, along with a poem congratulating him on his choice and confirming that he has won Portia’s hand.   Portia presents him with a ring, a symbol of their union, that he must never part with, as his removal of it will signify the end of his love for her.   Nerissa and Gratiano congratulate them and confess that they too have fallen in love with one another, suggesting a double wedding.  Portia agrees to the double wedding, and Gratiano boastfully wagers that he and Nerissa produce a boy before they do.    Lorenzo and Jessica arrive to Belmont where Salarino has given a letter to Bassanio. Antonio has written that all of his ships were destroyed, and that Shylock plans to collect his pound of flesh. This makes Bassino feel guilty, which prompts Portia to offer to pay twenty times the sum of the original loan. Jessica worries that her father is more interested in revenge than in money. Bassanio reads the letter again, Antonio told him that he doesn't care about the value of the loan and that he only wants a brief reunion before he dies. Portia urges her husband to rush to his friend’s aid.   Analysis: Bassanio’s successful choice seems inevitable and brings the drama of the caskets to an end. Bassanio’s excellence is made clear in his ability to select the correct casket, and his choice brings the separated strands of the plot together. This touches on one of the central themes of the play, the contrast between appearance and reality; what appears to be valuable (gold and silver) turns out to be worthless, and what appears to be worthless (lead) turns out to be valuable. Bassanio is enabled to judge rightly when others fail because his motive is love, rather than pride or the desire for worldly gain.   Portia's efforts to delay Bassino choosing a casket are evidence that she loves him. The charm of her speech lies in the fact that Portia cannot openly admit her love. Her attempts to verbally circumvent stating outright her feelings for Bassanio lead her to utter absolute nonsense. However, she is still the heroine of the scene;  she makes a decision while Bassanio panics and immediately attempts to put it into effect. She says: "First go with me to church and call me wife, / And then away to Venice to your friend!".   The central idea in the song that is used as background music while Bassanio is making his choice of caskets focuses on the word "fancy". Fancy, for Elizabethans, carried the meaning of whimsical affection.    Jessica is ignored by Portia and the others at Belmont. Her testimony against her father may be an attempt to prove her loyalty to the Christian cause, but the coldness of Portia, Bassanio, and the others is an understandable reaction. Lorenzo may love her, but her being the daughter of the antagonist and a Jew remains an object of suspicion for the others.   Important Quotes: "I pray you, tarry. Pause a day or two Before you hazard, for in choosing wrong I lose your company. Therefore forbear awhile." - Portia   "So may the outward shows be least themselves. The world is still deceived with ornament. In law, what plea so tainted and corrupt But, being seasoned with a gracious voice, Obscures the show of evil? " - Bassanio   "When I was with him I have heard him swear To Tubal and to Chus, his countrymen, That he would rather have Antonio’s flesh Than twenty times the value of the sum That he did owe him. " - Jessica   "Pay him six thousand and deface the bond! Double six thousand, and then treble that, Before a friend of this description Shall lose a hair through Bassanio’s fault. First go with me to church and call me wife, And then away to Venice to your friend." - Portia

Page 3

Act 3 - Scene 3

In Venice, Shylock escorts Antonio to prison. Antonio pleads with Shylock to listen, but Shylock refuses. Remembering the many times Antonio condemned him as a dog, Shylock advises the merchant to beware of his bite. Shylock is certain that the Duke of Venice will see that justice is carried out according to the terms of the bargain.   Salarino tries to comfort Antonio but is unsuccessful. Antonio knows that one of the chief reasons why Shylock hates him so much is that Antonio often saved people who were in debt to Shylock by paying their debts for them. Antonio claims that Venice is a wealthy trading city with a great reputation for upholding the law, and if the Duke breaks that law, Venice’s economy may suffer. Antonio must pay his debt according to his contract. He knows that Shylock wants revenge, and the law cannot save him. He only wants to see Bassanio before Shylock comes to take the pound of flesh.   Analysis: At this point in the play, it becomes difficult to sympathise with Shylock at all. Whatever humiliations he has suffered at Antonio’s hands are repaid when he sees him in shackles. Antonio may have treated Shylock badly, but Shylock’s pursuit of the pound of flesh is cruelty. He has taken Antonio as the embodiment of all his persecutors so that, in his pound of flesh, he can avenge himself against everyone.   In stark contrast to Shylock's fiery outbursts is Antonio's quiet acceptance of his position. Such passive acceptance suggests that he is doomed and increases the audience's dramatic anticipation of what is to come. Furthermore, Antonio himself points out that the Venetian state cannot save him; their commercial existence depends upon the rigorous enforcement of the law.   Important Quotes: "I’ll have my bond. Speak not against my bond. I have sworn an oath that I will have my bond. Thou calledst me dog before thou hadst a cause. But since I am a dog, beware my fangs." - Shylock   "The duke cannot deny the course of law. For the commodity that strangers have With us in Venice, if it be denied, Will much impeach the justice of his state, Since that the trade and profit of the city Consisteth of all nations. " - Antonio

Page 4

Act 3 - Scene 4

At Belmont, Lorenzo assures Portia that Antonio is worthy of all the help she is sending him. Portia replies that she has never regretted doing a good deed, and goes on to say that she could never deny help to anyone so close to her dear Bassanio.    She announces to Lorenzo that she and Nerissa are going to a monastery until their husbands return, asking him not to follow them and thanking him for agreeing to manage her household until she and Bassanio return.   Portia then sends her servant, Balthasar, to Padua, where he is to meet her cousin, Doctor Bellario, who will provide Balthasar with certain documents and clothing. From there, Balthasar will take the ferry to Venice, where Portia will await him.    She then explains her plan to Nerissa for both of them to disguise themselves as young men and follow Bassanio and Gratiano to Venice.   Analysis:  Portia's selfless generosity towards Bassanio is similar to that of Antonio's at the beginning of the play. This acts as a contrast towards Shylock's greed and revenge.   The concepts of friendship and love provided many of the central themes for many Elizabethan plays. Shakespeare has Portia make it plain that she understands the depth of friendship between Antonio and her husband. In this scene, Shakespeare also prepares us for Portia's appearance in the court. The audience anticipate seeing how well disguised Portia and Nerissa will be and how well they pull it off. We have seen Portia as the romantic lover and as the wise and witty woman; now we see her as a woman of the world.   Important Quotes: "I never did repent for doing good, Nor shall not now; for in companions That do converse and waste the time together Whose souls do bear an equal yoke of love, There must be needs a like proportion Of lineaments, of manners, and of spirit, Which makes me think that this Antonio, Being the bosom lover of my lord, Must needs be like my lord." - Portia   "I’ll hold thee any wager, When we are both accoutred like young men, I’ll prove the prettier fellow of the two, And wear my dagger with the braver grace" - Portia

Page 5

Act 3 - Scene 5

Launcelot opens the scene by saying that he fears for Jessica's soul. She reminds Launcelot that her husband Lorenzo has made her a Christian by marrying her and that she is not damned.   Lorenzo joins them then and pretends jealousy on finding his wife alone with Launcelot. Launcelot delivers a dazzling series of puns in reply and departs to prepare for dinner.         When Lorenzo asks Jessica what she thinks of Portia, she responds that the woman is without match, nearly perfect in all respects. Lorenzo jokes that he is as good a spouse as Portia, and leads them off to dinner.    Analysis: This scene acts as comic relief after the events of the previous scenes. Much of this scene focuses on Launcelot Gobbo's clowning and punning and returns the attention to the play being a comedy.    Jessica’s description of Portia’s perfection to her husband is odd, given how little attention Portia paid to her, but Jessica recognizes that Portia is the center of the social world that she hopes to join.   Important Quotes: "Past all expressing. It is very meet The Lord Bassanio live an upright life, For having such a blessing in his lady, He finds the joys of heaven here on earth. And if on earth he do not merit it, In reason he should never come to heaven." - Jessica

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