The Merchant of Venice (1912) - Plot Summary Poster


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  • A rich merchant, Antonio is depressed for no good reason, until his good friend Bassanio comes to tell him how he's in love with Portia. Portia's father has died and left a very strange will: only the man that picks the correct casket out of three (silver, gold, and lead) can marry her. Bassanio, unfortunately, is strapped for cash with which to go wooing, and Antonio wants to help, so Antonio borrows the money from Shylock, the money-lender. But Shylock has been nursing a grudge against Antonio's insults, and makes unusual terms to the loan. And when Antonio's business fails, those terms threaten his life, and it's up to Bassanio and Portia to save him.

  • Part One: Antonio, a nobleman and a merchant of Venice, is asked by his kinsman, Bassanio, for a large sum of money. Bassanio wishes to travel afar, in order to woo Portia, a woman of great fortune, as well as one of wit and beauty. Bassanio has not the necessary funds to make the trip, and therefore comes to Antonio for aid. Antonio, although a man of wealth, finds that he has no gold, his fortune being represented in the cargoes aboard his various ships at sea. He knows that in a few weeks, his ships will return and he will have ample funds, but in the meanwhile, he offers to borrow for his kinsman's present need of a notorious money-lender of Venice, Shylock, the Jew. Shylock has long hated Antonio, because of his proud spirit, and when he consents to lend the money, it is only on condition that Antonio should sign a bond, whereby, should he fail to return the money, inside of three months, the Jew shall receive, in lieu of interest, a pound of his, Antonio's flesh, to be cut off by Shylock. Antonio laughingly agrees to this bond. He knows the Jew desires his death, but feels so sure that in much less than three mouths' time his ships will have returned, and he can easily pay the borrowed money. With the money obtained by his kinsman on this strange bond, Bassanio travels to the home of the fair Portia. There, after passing a test imposed upon her suitors by her father, Bassanio is finally accepted, and feels that he owes all his good fortune in winning the lady of his desire to his noble kinsman, Antonio. Part Two: Bassanio is happily married to his lady love, Portia, when he receives a message of distress from his noble kinsman, Antonio, the merchant of Venice. Antonio writes that his many ships, containing all his wealth, have been lost at sea, and that he is not able to pay to Shylock, the money-lender, the money he borrowed for Bassanio. Because he is unable to pay, Shylock will be able to extract from Antonio, a pound of his flesh. When Portia heard of the plight in which her husband's kinsman found himself, she dispatched Bassanio with many times the amount of gold Antonio owed him, in order that a noble life might be saved. Shylock, however, refused to take the money, insisting that he be allowed to cut from near Antonio's heart the pound of flesh that had been pledged him. Thus he could kill his enemy. Had not Portia, disguised as a Doctor of the Law succeeded in being present at the court, Antonio's life would surely have been forfeited. Portia, however, made it plain to all that in justice to Shylock, Antonio must allow him his pound of flesh. But she also warned Shylock that if, in taking the flesh, he took one drop of blood, he would be committing a crime, as no blood was nominated in the bond. Shylock, outwitted, failed to get his terrible revenge, and Bassanio, when he went to thank the learned lawyer who had saved his friend, found, to his great joy, that "she" was none other than Portia, his own clever and beautiful wife.


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