The quality of mercy is not strained.
Antonio, “the merchant of Venice,” is sad; his friends try to cheer him up. Bassanio, Antonio’s closest friend, asks Antonio for financial help in wooing Portia, the rich heiress of Belmont. Antonio’s “fortunes are at sea,” so he cannot provide Bassanio with cash, but he agrees to “inquire where money is” and leaves with Bassanio to find someone who will loan him the money.
At Belmont, Portia and Nerissa lament the “lottery” provision in the will of Portia’s dead father: a potential suitor must choose among three caskets; the suitor who chooses the correct casket, which contains a portrait of Portia, wins Portia’s hand. Suitors risk much: “if [they] choose wrong, never to speak to lady afterward in way of marriage.” Portia and Nerissa mock the suitors who have already tried and failed.
Bassanio and Antonio ask Shylock, a rich Jewish moneylender, for a loan of three thousand ducats. Shylock offers to lend the money under the condition that, if the men cannot pay back the appointed amount on the appointed day, Antonio must forfeit a pound of his “fair flesh.” Antonio agrees.
The Prince of Morocco arrives in Belmont to woo Portia.
Launcelot Gobbo decides to leave Shylock’s service and become Bassanio’s servant.
Jessica, Shylock’s daughter, says goodbye to Launcelot and then makes plans to elope with Lorenzo, a Christian friend of Antonio and Bassanio.
At Belmont, the Prince of Morocco and the Prince of Arragon choose caskets in at empts to win Portia’s hand.
Shylock discovers that his daughter has eloped with a Christian and that Antonio’s ship will not arrive in time to repay the loan. Shylock decides that he will demand the pound of flesh promised to him in Antonio’s bond. • Bassanio arrives in Belmont and chooses a casket.
A friend from Venice arrives to tell Bassanio that Shylock has demanded the pound of flesh from Antonio.
Marriages, disguises, judgments, and things with rings ensue.