The Merchant of Venice: Act 4, Scene 1 & 2 - Summary

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Act 4, Scenes 1 & 2

      In the courtroom in Venice, Antonio is brought in. The crowd, which now includes Bassanio and Gratiano, jeers when Shylock appears and when he denies Antonio any mercy. Even when Bassanio presents a chest filled with money, Shylock says that Bassanio could have brought multiple chests similar to the one there and he still would refuse to release Antonio from the bond. Shylock wants his pound of flesh and will not settle for anything less. He points out to the court that this is his legal right. The court tries to persuade him, asking for mercy. Shylock absolutely will not give in.

      Antonio finally tells everyone that it is sense-less to try to reason with "the Jew.," "You may as well go stand upon the beach. And bid the main flood bate his usual height; You may as well use question with the wolf, Why he hath made the ewe bleat for the lamb." In other words, Antonio is saying that it is against Shylock's nature, because he is a Jew, to grant mercy.

      The duke asks how Shylock could ever hope for mercy from the court if he is unwilling to provide mercy to Antonio. Shylock claims he has done no wrong, so why should he worry about the court granting him any mercy. Shylock then points out that there are people in the courtroom who own slaves. He asks if he should tell them to let the slaves go. If he does, Shylock claims, the owners would say that the slaves are theirs. So too does Shylock say that Antonio is his. "The pound of flesh which I demand of him Is dearly bought; tis mine, and I will have it."

      At this point a messenger enters the court, delivering a letter from Dr. Bellario to the duke, telling the duke that he is ill but in his place, he has sent two young men (which is in fact Portia, dis-guised and referred to as Balthazar, and Nerissa). Portia /Balthazar gives Shylock a short lecture on the benefit of mercy; but Shylock still does not give in. Bassanio and Gratiano call Shylock a dog, a devil, and other names. Portia continues to dicker with Shylock, offering him three times what is owed him. Shylock refuses all offers. Antonio prepares to die. He says good-bye to Bassanio. Bassanio tells Antonio that nothing is greater than Antonio's life, not his own life, his new wife, or anything in the whole world.

      Portia hears this and comments: "Your wife would give you little thanks for that, If she were by to hear you make the offer." Then Portia tells Shylock to go forward and collect his pound of flesh from Antonio. He proceeds; but Portia suddenly stops him. She says that he is lawful in taking the pound of flesh, but if he extracts one drop of blood in the process it will be considered a crime. "Onee drop of Christian blood, thy lands and goods Are, by the laws of Venice, confiscate Unto the state of Venice." Shylock could lose every thing that he owns.

      Shylock abruptly changes his mind. He tells the court that he will now take thrice the amount of the contract and will let Antonio go. Portia denies him this. All he is entitled to is the pound of flesh. Shylock then turns to leave, but Portia tells him to stay. She says the court will take everything from him. Antonio protests, telling the court that he will take half of what Shylock has, but the other half should go to Lorenzo and Jessica upon Shylock's death. In the meantime, Shylock must give up his faith and become a Christian. The courtroom empties.

      Bassanio and Gratiano approach Portia and Nerissa, still in disguise and ask what payment they might request for their having saved the life of Antonio. Portia says she needs nothing, except for the ring on Bassanio's finger. It is the ring that Portia gave to Bassanio before they were wed, telling him that if he ever takes it off his finger, it would mean that his love for her has ended. Bassanio gives the young lawyer the ring. In this way, Portia appears to test Bassanio's love for her. Some critics believe that there is a tug of war going on between Antonio and Portia to see whom Bassanio loves more. Portia intends to teach Bassanio a lesson. Acting as if Portia's shadow, Nerissa also asks for Gratiano's ring and receives it.

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