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Free Study Guide-The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare-Study Guide
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SCENE SUMMARIES WITH NOTES

ACT III, SCENE 2

Summary

In Belmont, Bassanio has fallen in love with Portia, and she seems to also care about him. She pleads with Bassanio to wait for a few days before choosing from the casket, for she fears losing this man. The eager Bassanio, however, wants to take the test at once, for he cannot bear to wait for her any longer. Portia expresses her devotion to Bassanio and tries to prolong the moments before the choice. The two trade words charged with love. To ease the tension, Portia asks for music to be played.

Bassanio approaches the caskets. He recognizes that ugliness is often concealed by outer beauty and refuses to be deceived by outward appearances. He thinks aloud that cowards often have heroic facades, and women who appear beautiful are often gilded peacocks. As a result, he refuses the silver and gold caskets and opts for the lead one. Opening it, he finds a picture of Portia, which he thinks is far inferior to the original. He kisses Portia and praises his good luck.


The two pledge themselves to each other. Portia offers all that she owns to her future husband as a token of her love. She also gives him a ring, which Bassanio promises to wear forever. Nerissa and Gratiano announce that they too have fallen in love. As the two couples rejoice, Salarino, who arrives with Lorenzo and Jessica, interrupts them. There is a message for Bassanio from Antonio. In the letter, Antonio asks Bassanio to come to Venice at once, before Antonio loses his life. Portia, seeing Bassanio lose color, asks about the letter's contents. Bassanio tells her about his indebtedness to Antonio and the fact that Antonio's ships have been lost. Shylock has asked the Duke's permission to extract his pound of flesh from Antonio. Confirming that her father would rather have Antonio's flesh than twenty times the owed amount, Portia offers to pay the debt twenty times over. Portia also advises Bassanio to leave immediately for Venice. They will have a quick wedding and Bassanio can then depart.

Notes

Bassanio and Portia are clearly receptive to each other's feelings. They quickly learn to care deeply for one another. Portia worries about Bassanio choosing the right casket and wants to postpone the decision, but Bassanio is eager to proceed. To ease the tension of the moment, she asks for music to be played. The song that is heard begins with the words, "Tell me, where is fancy bred?" In fact, each line of the song ends in a word that rhymes with "lead." Perhaps, Portia is subconsciously trying to help Bassanio in his choice, since she cannot openly help him. It would break her oath to her father. In truth, Bassanio, with his noble nature, needs no help in making the right decision.

Bassanio rejects the gold casket, for he sees gold as deceitful and superficial; he rejects the silver casket for being symbolic of money. His preference for the lead casket shows that he knows that true worth is often found beneath false appearances. Bassanio's choice proves to be correct, which delights both Bassanio and Portia. She exclaims that her "ecstasy" is an "excess." Excess is another word used for interest or usury. This use of commercial language to express love shows that the romantic and idealized setting of Belmont is constantly under threat from the commercial and mercantile nature of Venice. For Portia, money's sole function is its use in the service of love. She wishes she were not only "a thousand times more fair," but also "ten thousand times more rich" so that she could serve Bassanio better. The lovers are perfectly matched in charm, virtue, nobility, generosity, and love.

The ring given by Portia to Bassanio is to symbolize the unending bond between them and the permanence of their love. In a later scene, this ring will act as an important link between the commercial world of Venice and the idealized one of Belmont.

In this scene, the affect of associating with better people is seen in Gratiano. His association with the noble Bassanio has taken him from foolish and garrulous behavior to the true joys of love. Nerissa too, through the time spent with Portia, is now worthy of a gentleman. The scene truly points out the value of friendship.

Bassanio's happiness has been made possible by Antonio's generosity. Portia has befriended and aided Nerissa; and Gratiano's friendship with Bassanio has made his love for Nerissa a possibility.

The happiness of the two couples is interrupted by Salanio's message that all of Antonio's ships have been lost, followed by the news that Shylock has been insisting on the cruel repayment of his bond. Shylock has told the Duke of Venice that unless the bond is paid, no future business or contract in Venice will have any value. The matter is set for court.

At this point in the scene, the value of friendship is again developed. In his letter to Bassanio, Antonio displays his willingness to die for his friend. Portia's generous spontaneity to repay the bond for Antonio shows that she values the importance of friendship over money. She welcomes the opportunity to give for love. It is also shown that she places a high value on friendship as she urges Bassanio to go to Antonio's aid as soon as they are married.

In this scene, each character lives up to their ideals. Antonio shows his courage and forgiveness; Bassanio is prepared to sacrifice his happiness and his life to save Antonio; Portia shows her generosity and her respect for friendship; Jessica, now a Christian, is wholly virtuous. By contrast to these Christians, Shylock the Jew is developed as a totally selfish and vindictive character.

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