The Merchant of Venice condensed

Centuries ago there was a wealthy merchant in Venice named Antonio. Antonio had made his money trading goods internationally. He had a friend in Bassanio, who had an interest in Portia. Afraid of losing Bassanio, Antonio said “I know not why I am so sad.” Also in Venice, rather in the Ghetto, is Shylock, a Jew and a moneylender.  Being a Jew, Shylock would have been denied certain civil rights offered gentiles, such as being able to live in Venice. 

Act 1. Portia lives in Belmont, and love-struck Bassanio wants to woo her, but doesn’t have the funds to get there. Antonio suggests Bassanio borrow the funds needed, using Antonio’s good credit as collateral. Antonio suggests he seek out Shylock. Having limited options, Bassanio accepts Antonio’s kind offer. In Belmont, Portia frets over the terms of her deceased father’s will that requires she establish a “lottery” her father “hath devised.”  Her father had required through his will that the man who wins his daughter will be the one who “chooses his meaning,” by choosing the correct chest, either the gold, silver or lead chest. The Prince of Morocco is the first suitor to arrive in Belmont.  Back in Venice, Bassanio negotiates with the moneylender for three thousand ducats for three months. But Shylock will require stiff terms, having a justified dislike for Antonio.  The bondholder (Antonio) must “forfeit a pound of his fresh flesh” if the loan is not repaid as agreed.  Bassanio thinks the terms are too tough, but Antonio says “fear not man, I will not forfeit it.” Antonio has pledged as security his ships that he says “come home a month before the day” the loan payment is due. Bassanio accepts Shylock’s terms, eager as he is to get to Belmont.

Act 2. Bassanio’s good friend Gratiano wants to go to Belmont too and begs Bassanio to let him join him on the trip. Bassanio agrees, but demands Gratiano conduct himself better than he normally does.  Shylock’s daughter, Jessica, lets us know she’s in love with Lorenzo, a Christian. Shylock plans to attend a dinner party, but right after he leaves home for the party, Jessica helps herself to some of his jewels and gold, and runs off with Lorenzo. Shylock becomes furiously upset when he returns home, learning not only that his daughter has “stolen a sealed bag of double ducats and two rich jewels,” but as well has eloped with Lorenzo. The Prince of Morocco has chosen the gold chest, a wrong chest, and exits.  A rumor surfaces in Venice that a Venetian merchant’s ships have gone down in the English Channel. Portia’s second suitor, the Prince of Arragon, has picked the silver chest, also a wrong chest, and has left Belmont. A messenger announces to Portia that a “young Venetian is alighted” and that he “has not seen so likely an ambassador of love.” Nerissa, Portia’s gentlewoman, squeals “Lord Love, if thy will it be.”

Act 3. Word continues to spread in Venice that it was Antonio’s ships that sank in the English Channel. An angry Shylock lets us know that he plans to hold tight to the terms of his loan to Bassanio. Portia encourages Bassanio to take some time before he chooses a chest, but an impatient Bassanio can’t wait, saying “Let me choose.”  He opens the lead chest, the winning chest; he and Portia are overjoyed.  They marry. Portia, however, warns Bassanio to take good care of his wedding ring. Gratiano and Nerissa marry. A shocked Bassanio learns that Antonio has likely lost his ships in the channel and that Shylock plans to enforce his bond. Portia learns of the bond, saying “What, no more?” She offers to cover it “twenty times over.” Bassanio leaves for Venice. Jessica and Lorenzo, by happenstance, have arrived in Belmont. Portia asks them to manage things while she and Nerissa are away, telling them they’re going to a monastery. Portia writes to her cousin, a Doctor Bellario, “a noted jurist in Padua,” letting him know that she needs his help.

Act 4. A court convenes in Venice. Shylock tells the court that he demands “to forfeit on my bond.”  A disguised Nerissa enters the court to report that Bellario is ill and that he has dispatched a “young doctor of Rome, a man named Balthazar” to represent him. Portia, disguised as Balthazar, enters.  She says she is aware of the case, notes that Shylock’s case is strong, but suggests to him that perhaps he should “be merciful.” Shylock doesn’t budge, saying “I crave the law, the penalty and forfeit of my bond.”  Balthasar responds, okay, you may take “your pound of fresh flesh,” but no blood, and precisely one pound. Shylock is shocked to silence. Bassanio says “for thy three thousand ducats here is six.” Recognizing that he is trapped, Shylock says “I take this offer then.”  The judge says no deal. The judge determines that Antonio is to get one-half of Shylock’s goods; the state the other half. Shylock leaves the courtroom saying “I am not well.”  Bassanio tries to pay Balthasar for his help.  Balthasar refuses the offer, but says “I’ll take this ring from you.” Bassanio says I can’t give it away, but Antonio convinces him that Balthasar deserves it.  Bassanio gives up his wedding ring. Nerissa plans to get the ring from Gratiano’s hand. She does.

Act 5. Portia and Nerissa find their way back to Belmont.  Bassanio, Gratiano and Antonio arrive a little later in Belmont. Nerissa takes Gratiano to task for his missing ring. Portia turns to Bassanio, teasing him, saying “What ring gave you my lord? Not that, I hope, that you received of me.” Bassanio desperately tries to explain. Antonio bails him out, saying I talked him in to giving it away. Portia gives Bassanio’s ring to Antonio, saying “Then you shall be his surety. Give him this ring.” Nerissa returns the ring to Gratiano. Portia describes their ruse. Portia shows Antonio a paper confirming that his ships in fact have arrived safely. Nerissa shows Lorenzo a paper deeding Shylock’s possessions to Jessica and him. Gratiano vows to take better care of his ring.