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SCENE SUMMARIES WITH NOTES
ACT IV, SCENE 2
Portia asks Nerissa to hand over to Shylock the new will made according to the conditions set at court for his signature. Gratiano catches up with the ladies and gives Bassanio's ring to Portia. Nerissa also asks Gratiano for his ring as a token of tribute. Gratiano has little choice but to hand over the ring, which he has also promised his wife he would never part with. The ladies then plan to return to Belmont the same night.
Portia accepts the ring that Gratiano has brought. She and Nerissa successfully contrive to take his ring from him as well. The ladies then relish the thought of teasing their respective husbands when they return to Belmont.
ACT V, SCENE 1
In Belmont, Lorenzo and Jessica pass their time pleasantly. They talk of the beauty of the night and recount great lovers of history. Stephano, who is Portia's messenger, interrupts them. He tells that Portia is expected to return from the monastery before daybreak. Launcelot arrives with the news that Bassanio will also be in Belmont before morning. Lorenzo asks for music to be played by the house musicians to welcome Portia. He and Jessica rest in the garden on a grassy bank. He says that people, in their imperfection, cannot hear the heavenly music played by the planets in their harmony. He listens to the musicians play and marvels that music has the power to soothe the savageness of beasts.
Portia and Nerissa enter at a distance and enjoy the sound of music in silence. As they approach, Lorenzo recognizes Portia's voice and greets them. Portia warns Lorenzo and Jessica not to mention her absence from Belmont. She sends Nerissa to the house with the same warning for the servants. Soon Bassanio's trumpet is heard, and he arrives with Antonio, Gratiano, and their followers. Bassanio and Portia greet each other warmly. Portia is introduced to Antonio, and she makes him feel welcome.
A quarrel breaks out between Nerissa and Gratiano over his lost wedding ring. Gratiano explains that he has given the ring to the lawyer's clerk in Venice. He insists that it was done as thanks for the service done to Antonio. Nerissa pretends to believe that he must have given the ring to a pretty girl. Portia supports Nerissa and says that Gratiano's action was foolish. She teases Bassanio by stating that he would never part with the ring she has given him for any reason. Bassanio does not reply to her, but Gratiano tells that Bassanio has given away the ring to the young lawyer. Portia flies into a rage. She refuses to listen to Bassanio's apologies and threatens not share his bed until he has found it. Bassanio tries to reason with her that the lawyer has done them a great service. Portia accuses Bassanio of infidelity with another woman. Since the lawyer now has her wedding ring, she threatens to give the lawyer her body. Antonio, uneasy that he is the cause of this quarrel, intervenes. Bassanio swears that he will never break another promise made to Portia. Antonio pledges his soul to Bassanio's future fidelity.
Portia now gives Antonio a ring to give to Bassanio with the instruction that he guard it better than the one he had earlier. Bassanio recognizes the ring. She upsets Bassanio by saying that she has received this ring in return for sleeping with the lawyer. Nerissa produces her ring saying that she got it from the clerk last night. Gratiano is also horrified.
Portia now shows them the letter from her cousin Bellario and explains the whole story of how she was the lawyer and Nerissa the clerk at the court at Venice. Antonio, Bassanio, and Gratiano are amazed. Portia then tells Antonio that three of his ships have returned with their cargo. Antonio thanks her for giving him his life and livelihood. Nerissa gives Lorenzo Shylock's will, by which all of Shylock's property is transferred to Lorenzo and Jessica upon his death. The happiness of Antonio and the three couples is complete.
This scene opens in sharp contrast to the last scene filled with tension and difficulty. Lorenzo and Jessica relax and listen to music, which restores the mood of comedy and harmony to the play. The commercial world of Venice is left behind and the characters are transported to the romantic setting of Belmont. Appropriately, the conversation between Lorenzo and Jessica is richly poetic. Lorenzo describes the beauty of the night and says that each star is like a singing angel.
As Portia and Nerissa enter, they pause to savor the sights and sounds of Belmont. Portia reflects on her home and her recent success. They seem to be one in the same, " good deed in a naughty world." As she listens to the music, she says that music sounds more beautiful at night, since nothing is absolutely good in itself, but only relatively good. With maturity, Portia shows her awareness that standards of behavior and judgment vary with circumstances.
Almost immediately, Bassanio, Antonio, and Gratiano return to the peace of Belmont as well. All is joyous at the reunion. The harmony is broken, however, by Nerrisa and Portia teasing their husbands about the lost rings. Their conversation is filled with irony and wit. Bassanio's eloquent apologies are in vain as Portia feigns great anger. Since the mythical lawyer now has her wedding ring, Portia threatens to give him her body too. Bassanio promises that he will never again break an oath given to her. Antonio offers his soul as a bond against Bassanio's future fidelity, just as he had pledged his flesh earlier.
Portia hands Antonio a letter that explains the whole disguise. The identities of the young lawyer and his clerk are revealed. The three men are amazed and exhilarated. She adds the joyous news that Antonio's ships have arrived laden with goods. He joyfully exclaims, "Sweet lady, you have given me life and living." Antonio's material reward for his generosity and love is a just victory of good over evil. Nerissa then gives to Lorenzo the will by which all of Shylock's possessions are to be inherited by Lorenzo and Jessica. Lorenzo exclaims, "Fair ladies, you drop manna in the way of starved people." Since "it is almost morning," Portia suggests that everyone retire.
As always, the masterful Shakespeare has tied up all the loose ends of the play. The joy of the three couples and Antonio is complete. Romance and nobility have triumphed, greed and hatred have been banished.