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The Merchant of Venice
by William Shakespeare
July 7 - 31, 2005
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THE MERCHANT OF VENICE - The Story
Three friends: Lorenzo, Bassanio and Antonio enter in conversation. Bassanio tells Antonio about a woman named Portia whom he wants to court and marry. But he needs money and is broke. He asks Antonio for financial help. His friend replies that he too is out of pocket and that he will see if he can take out a loan on his friend's behalf and on his credit.
In Belmont, Portia and her companion Nerissa are discussing the merits of Portia's many suitors. It is revealed that, on his death, Portia's father left her very wealthy but bound to a clause in the will: Whoever she marries must chose from among three small caskets: one gold, one silver, one lead. One of the three contains her picture. Who choses the right casket gets her and her fortune. A suitor enters. He is the Prince of Morocco, who proceeds to play the casket game and lose.
In Venice Bassanio and Antonio call on Shylock, a wealthy merchant and money-lender. Shylock admonishes Antonio and reminds him of how many times Antonio has insulted him for being a Jew. Antonio replies angrily that he, notwithstanding his need for Shylock's money - would likely insult him again. Shylock cleverly replies that he will loan Antonio the 3000 ducats he asks for, asking for no security other than a bond that states that, should Antonio default on the loan, he will repay Shylock with one pound of his flesh.
At Shylock's home, Lanzelot, a servant, is saying his goodbye to Jessica, Shylock's daughter, as he prepares to leave and go to serve a new master: Antonio. Shylock walks in and admonishes Jessica to stay home and lock all doors, as it is Carnival time and there are drunken masques all over the city. Little does he know that she plans to leave the house later that night with her Christian lover Lorenzo and abscond with Shylock's money, assisted by Lanzelot.
In Belmont, Portia receives a Spaniard - The Prince of Aragon - who proceeds to play the caskets game with much the same bad luck as all other suitors. Nerissa announces the arrival of a Bassanio and his friends. They go to meet him.
In Venice, Shylock encounters his old servant Lanzelot who tells him that Antonio has lost a ship in the high seas. Shylock rejoices over Antonio's misfortune and warns that Antonio should "look to his bond."
In Belmont, Bassanio pays homage to Portia and confesses his love for her. Portia and Nerissa sing a song for his entertainment, where the repeated use of words that rhyme with lead leads Bassanio to take a chance at the casket game. He chooses correctly and opens the leaden casket to find inside it Portia's picture. Amidst general rejoicing, Nerissa and Bassanio's servant Graziano confess that they too are in love and plan to marry. Jessica and Lorenzo arrive, accompanied by Lanzelot, who gives Bassanio a letter from his friend Antonio. The letter contains shattering news and the celebration turns somber. Portia inquires what's wrong and, when told by Bassanio, decides that she will travel to Venice that night and take matters in hand.
In Venice Shylock encounters Tubal, an old friend who gives him news about Jessica's whereabouts. Shylock is distraught by the news and entreats Tubal to accompany him to the synagogue.
Days later, in Venice, Shylock enters a court of law to claim his pound of flesh. On the bench sits the Duke of Venice presiding over the strange legal proceedings. Antonio is resigned to lose his life, all for the sake of his friend Bassanio, who offers to pay off the debt to Shylock, all to no avail. The unexpected arrival of a young lawyer from Padua interrupts the proceedings. Portia and Nerissa enter the courtroom, disguised as a lawyer and his clerk. The trial that follows and its results lead to the release of Antonio and to the extremely unjust punishment of Shylock. In the aftermath of the trial, Portia asks Bassanio (who fails to recognize her) for a ring in payment for "his" (her) services. Bassanio at first refuses to give up the ring that his future bride gave him just days ago, yet finally relents, as does Graziano, who gives the young clerk the ring he has from Nerissa.
In Belmont, Lorenzo and Jessica vow their love to each other. Portia and Nerissa return, dressed again as women, and are greeted by their friends and soon joined by Bassanio, Graziano, Antonio, and Lanzelot. All the knots are untied and all the rancors forgotten as the group of lovers and friends reprises the song 'Tell me where is fancy bred' and disperses to go to sleep.