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Merchant of Venice Summary
The Merchant of Venice opens with Antonio, a Christian merchant, in a depressed state. His friends try to cheer him up, but nothing works to make him feel better. Finally his friend Bassanio, an aristocrat who has lost all of his money, comes and asks Antonio to loan him some money.
Antonio, who has tied up all of his money is seafaring ventures, is unable to give Bassanio a direct loan. Instead he offers to use his good credit to get a loan for Bassanio. Bassanio finds Shylock, a Jewish moneylender, and convinces him to give a loan of three thousand ducats as long as Antonio will sign the contract. In a rather unusual twist, instead of charging the Christian men interest, Shylock agrees to waive it as long as Antonio promises him a pound of his flesh as collateral. Antonio, thinking this is a “merry sport,” accepts the condition of the bond (contract) and signs it.
Bassanio takes the money and prepares to go visit Portia, a wealthy heiress living in Belmont. She is unmarried because her father has decreed that all suitors must first select one of three caskets in order to marry her. The caskets, one made of gold, one of silver, and one of base lead, all contain different messages. Only one of these caskets contains a picture of Portia. The suitor who picks that casket will be granted permission to marry her.
Prior to Bassanio’s arrival the Prince of Morocco tries his luck in choosing among the caskets. He picks the gold casket because it contains an inscription reading “what every man desires.” Instead of Portia’s picture, he finds a skull which symbolizes the fact that gold hides corruption. As part of losing the suit, he is further sworn to never propose marriage to any other woman, and must return to Morocco immediately. The next suitor, the Prince of Aragon, selects the silver casket which bears an inscription stating that it will give a man what he deserves. Inside is a picture of an idiot, indicating that his self-centered.