Act I, Scene 1
Antonio is sad, but he doesn’t know why. His friends suggest that it’s because his entire fortune is currently tied up in ocean ventures and the ocean can be pretty unpredictable. He doesn’t think that’s it. Then, they suggest it’s because he’s in love. Antonio finds that idea to be completely ridiculous. Salarino then comes to the genius conclusion that Antonio is sad because he isn’t happy. Bassanio comes up with his friends before that idea can be fleshed out further. Salarino and Salanio both leave.
Bassiano’s friends get ready to leave as well, but Gratiano notices that Antonio is sad. He tries to cheer him up by promising to act like a jester, but that will have to wait until they all get together over dinner.
Once they are alone, Antonio and Bassiano get to the business at hand. Bassiano has no money, in fact he is in debt to a lot of people, especially Antonio. Antonio is more than willing to help out his friend. He has to reassure Bassiano of that fact before he will get to the point. Bottom line: Bassiano needs money to woo a lady. Unfortunately, all of Antonio’s wealth is at sea, but he tells Bassiano to try and get a loan in his name.
Act I, Scene 2
Portia is also sad. Her maid, Nerissa, thinks that she shouldn’t be sad because she is rich and the good things in her life far outweigh the bad. Portia tends to agree, but can’t take the advice because she is too sad that she has no say in who her husband will be. Nerissa explains – primarily for the audience – that Portia’s father made a riddle with three chests: one of gold, one of silver, and one of lead. A potential suitor has to pick the right chest in order to win her hand.
They decide to work through the suitors one by one. First, they discuss the Neapolitan Prince. He is too obsessed with his horses. Then, they remark on the County Palatine. He is apparently much too somber for Portia’s liking. The French Lord is all over the place. Portia describes him as “no man and every man.” Lord Faulconbridge doesn’t speak any of the three languages she speaks. The Scottish Lord makes a habit of “borrowing” things. The German is terrible to deal with whether he is sober or drunk, and he is apparently drunk quite often.
Portia is very concerned that one of these men will choose the right chest. Nerissa informs her that none of the suitors want to give the chests a try. They would like to woo her another way, but Portia is bound by her father’s will. Plus, she really doesn’t like them and will be glad to see them go. Both Portia and Nerissa think that Bassiano would make a good option.
A serving man tells Portia that the previous suitors are departing and a new one has arrived.
Act I, Scene 3
Bassiano has found a man who might lend him the money he needs, Shylock. Shylock will lend him the 3,000 ducats he needs, with the promise that it will be paid back in 3 months, and Antonio will be the one bound to the debt. Shylock is hesitant because all of Antonio’s money is tied up in ships that are out to sea right now. Bassiano invites Shylock to dine with them and discuss the terms. Shylock agrees to meet them, but will not eat, drink, or pray with them.
Antonio enters and Shylock divulges his true intentions to the audience. He explains that he hates Antonio because Antonio is a Christian who lends money without taking any interest, so he hurts Shylock’s business. Also, Antonio has an open hatred for Jewish people and as a Jew, Shylock wants to avenge this dishonor.
Shylock explains to the men that he will have to get some of the money from his friend, who is also Jewish. Antonio explains that he doesn’t like to lend or borrow money, but he is willing to break from that custom in this instance. Shylock tells the story about Jacob, who was tending his uncle’s flock. They made a deal that any lambs that were born with multi-colored wool, would be Jacob’s as payment for his work. When breeding time came, Jacob would smack the lambs on the side to ensure they had streaked lambs (genetics were not understood AT ALL at the time). By being thrifty, Jacob got the better end of the deal.
Antonio points out that Jacob still relied on heavenly intervention to better the deal. He asked Shylock is his gold and silver was the same as sheep. Shylock remarks that he makes it breed as quickly.
Shylock asks why he should lend Antonio the money when Antonio has only ever shown hatred for him. Antonio spits on Shylock and insults him regularly. Antonio pretty much says that he won’t stop insulting Shylock, but this is a business deal and has nothing to do with being friends. Shylock agrees to the bond, but if payment isn’t made, he wants a pound of Antonio’s flesh. Antonio agrees to the bond because his ships are due back a month before the money is due.
Act II, Scene 1
The Prince of Morocco goes on about how amazing and handsome he is. Portia explains that it is not up to her, he has to choose a chest. He is confident and wants to go to the chests immediately. She makes him swear that he will give up on ever marrying her if he chooses the wrong chest. He agrees and she says he can choose after dinner.
Act II, Scene 2
Launcelot hates working for Shylock. He is torn between keeping his word and staying or running away.
Just then, his father comes to visit him. He father is pretty much blind, so he asks Launcelot where he can find Shylock’s house. Launcelot plays a trick on him and tells his father that his son has died. The old man is clearly distraught by this news and hardly believes Launcelot when he reveals the truth.
Launcelot gets his father to help him secure a new job with Bassiano. He hardly trusts his father to actually do the asking, so he keeps interrupting. Bassiano agrees to take Launcelot into his service. (I don’t know how he plans to pay him, but whatever we’re not worried about it.)
Gratiano comes up and asks Bassiano if he can come with him to Belmont. Bassiano agrees, but cautions Gratiano to be a little more subdued than normal. Gratiano assures him that he will act with the utmost propriety, but that Bassiano shouldn’t judge him by all the shenanigans he gets into tonight.
Act II, Scene 3
Launcelot says goodbye to Jessica, Shylock’s daughter. They were good friends and Launcelot brought her a lot of joy.
After he leaves, she reveals that she feels guilty about disliking her father so much, but she intends to become a Christian and run off with Lorenzo.
Act II, Scene 4
Lorenzo explains to his friends that they are going to sneak away from dinner, put on costumes, and be back before anyone misses them. This is his plan for stealing away Jessica. Launcelot comes with a letter from Jessica saying tonight will be the perfect night to steal her away. Lorenzo slowly explains the plan in full. He and his friends will pretend to be doing a masque in the street outside Jessica’s home. She will escape, disguised as a man and with some of her father’s gold and jewels, and run away to marry Lorenzo.
Act II, Scene 5
Shylock is getting ready to go to dinner, so he hands Jessica’s the keys and tell her to keep everything locked up in his absence. Launcelot remarks that there will be a masque on the street that evening. Shylock orders Jessica to stay in the house with the windows shut and ignore the masque. Launcelot gives Jessica a coded message that she should keep her eye out for Lorenzo. Shylock is ready to go and get Antonio to sign his crazy bond.