Merchant of Venice Plot Summary
Bassanio is a failed Venice merchant in love with a rich woman named Portia who lives in Belmont. He needs money so that he can travel to Belmont and convince her to marry him. Portia has a problem as well, because her father died without choosing a husband for her, a potential suitor would have to solve a puzzle involving chests. Bassanio's friend Antonio offers to borrow money to pay for the trip. Unfortunately, the loan shark, Shylock, has a grudge against Antonio - Antonio had interfered with his business, and insulted his religion at every opportunity. - Shylock plans to use this opportunity to take revenge on him. He loans Antonio the money on the condition that if he defaults on the loan, Shylock will get a pound of his flesh. Antonio agrees, not taking the consequences seriously.
In Belmont, Portia is unhappy that she can't choose to marry the person she loves, and that all her suitors either refuse to try and solve the puzzle, or are too stupid to figure it out. In Venice, one of Shylock's servants leaves and becomes a servant for Bassanio - just as Shylock's daughter Jessica is planning to elope with Lorenzo, another one of Bassanio's friends. While Shylock has dinner at Bassanio's house, Lorenzo and a few friends help Jessica escape from her house. Lorenzo and Jessica flee the city with some of Shylock's money. While Bassanio leaves for Belmont, Shylock scours the city with the help of the Duke of Venice, desperate to find his money, as well as his daughter. Word gets out that an Italian ship crashed in the English Channel - perhaps it was Antonio's. Portia gets word that a Venetian suitor will soon be arriving - she hopes that it is Bassanio, who she met a year earlier.
It is revealed that it was definitely Antonio's ship that sank in the channel, leaving him without the money to pay Shylock. Shylock is angry about the loss of his daughter and money, but glad that he'll have the chance to take vengeance on Antonio. In Belmont, Bassanio takes the test of the chests, and picks the correct one, winning Portia for his wife - Gratiano, Bassanio's friend, also marries Portia's maid Nerissa.. A letter arrives from Antonio, explaining that he's going to default on the debt. Bassanio announces that he's going to go back to Venice to help. Shylock has Antonio taken into custody in preparation for his trial. Portia and her maid, Nerissa, leave Belmont and go to Venice - hoping to help their husbands, but first Portia sends a letter to her cousin, a doctor in Padua.
The trial of Antonio begins in Venice. The Duke asks Shylock to be forgiving of Antonio, but Shylock refuses. Now rich because of his marriage, Bassanio offers Shylock three times the money Antonio owes but Shylock still refuses. The Duke had asked a doctor to come to Venice and decide the trial. Doctor Bellario, Portia's cousin. Portia and Nerissa arrive, disguised in men's clothing, pretending to be a replacement doctor and his clerk. Portia rules in favor of Shylock, and announces that he can proceed to cut a pound of flesh from Antonio. She warns him about the finer points of the law, though - if Shylock takes anything but an exact pound, it won't be a collection of a debt, it will be an attack on Antonio's life. As a Jew, Shylock can't be a citizen, so if he attacks a citizen, he'll be sentenced to death, and all his money will be taken by the state. Shylock gives up, and tries to leave, but Portia won't let him - because he's given up on the debt, his plans to attack Antonio are a crime on their own - the punishment is that he has to give half his money to Antonio, and the other half to the state. Antonio convinces the Duke to give Shylock half of his money back, on the condition that Shylock becomes a Christian, and will all of his money to his daughter and son-in-law.
Portia and Nerissa trick their husbands out of their wedding rings, demanding them as payment for having gotten Antonio off. Bassanio and Antonio return to Belmont, ready to face the disapproval of their wives. After toying with them for a little while, Portia and Nerissa reveal the trick they'd played on their husbands, and how they saved Antonio's life. Portia also brings a deed explaining that Shylock has willed his money to Jessica and Lorenzo, and a letter that says the rest of Antonio's ships have arrived safely at port, making him once again wealthy. At the end of the play all the characters are married, rich, Christian, or some combination of the three, so they all live happily ever after.