Merchant of Venice Act 1, Scene 1
The play opens in a Venice street. Antonio, Salarino and Salanio enter. Antonio is sad, and wonders aloud what is causing this sadness. His friends suggest that he's too worried about his finances. He has a lot of money invested in goods being shipped from overseas, and they explain that it's natural for him to be distracted and upset. Salarino describes his feelings whenever he is shipping goods: "Should I go to church and see the holy edifice of stone, and not bethink me straight of dangerous rocks, which, touching but my gentle vessel's side, would scatter all her spices on the stream,' Act 1, Scene 1, lines 29-33. Antonio assures them that he isn't worried about money - he has spread his investments and savings around, not putting all his eggs in one basket. Salarino then suggests that if it isn't money that Antonio is upset about, then he must be in love. Antonio dismisses this idea out of hand, leaving his friends confused about his seemingly unprovoked depression.
Bassanio, Lorenzo and Gratiano enter. Salanio and Salarino excuse themselves, explaining that they have business to attend to. Lorenzo and Gratiano explain that they're leaving, and remind Bassanio to meet them later at dinner-time. Gratiano notices how sad Antonio seems, and offers to play the fool in an attempt to cheer him up. He makes a short, puzzling Soliloquy concerning the nature of wisdom and the people thought to have it, then leaves with Lorenzo. Antonio is confused by Gratiano's speech. Bassanio explains that Gratiano is the biggest blowhard in all of Venice: "His reasons are as two grains of wheat hid in, two bushels of chaff: you shall seek all day ere you find them, and when you have them they are not worth the search." Act 1, Scene 1, lines 115-8
Antonio asks about the identity of the woman Bassanio is in love with. Bassanio admits to Antonio that he's trapped under a crippling debt - much of it to Antonio. Antonio assures Bassanio that he'll do anything he can to help. Bassanio explains that he's fallen in love with Portia, a rich woman living in Belmont. He's afraid that he won't be able to win her hand though, she is so beautiful that she has wealthy and accomplished suitors chasing after her from all across Europe. Antonio offers to help, but explains that since all of his ships are still at sea, he has no money to give Bassanio. He does, however, offer his credit to Bassanio, so that Bassanio can borrow money against Antonio's good name so that he may go to Belmont as a wealthy man.