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Love Plot in William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice
The Merchant of Venice is a play of both love and hate. The love plot
begins to develop in Acts 1 and 2, as we are introduced to the leading
characters of the play.
Bassanio is a friend of Antonio, who is the merchant of the play’s
title. Bassanio is a young man, and in the beginning of the play we
are introduced his infantile character. We learn that he has spent all
of his own money and aspires to regain his fortune by marrying the
“…she is fair, and- fairer than that word- of wondrous virtues…Her
name is Portia, nothing undervalued…”
He needs to borrow ducats to present himself to Portia as an eligible
suitor. Consequently, he turns to his friend Antonio for the money;
however, Antonio has invested all his money in his ships at sea but
still offers to borrow money for him, from Shylock. This shows the
bond of friendship that lies between Antonio and Bassanio, and in this
scene we are introduced to the love of friendship that they both hold.
In the second scene of Act 1, we are introduced to Portia, whom we
have heard little of from the first scene. In the second scene she is
longing to finally find her future husband. We learn of a test that
Portia’s father had devised before his death, that all her suitors
must submit to. As Portia and Nerissa (her lady in waiting) laugh
about some of the mens’ peculiarities, Nerissa reminds her of a young
Venetian soldier whom Portia met when her father was still alive.
Nerissa described him as ‘a scholar and a soldier.’ Portia recalls
the man immediately and says:
“Yes, yes, it was Bassanio!”
The enthusiasm with which Portia recalls his name shows us that she
remembers him with delight.
Later on, in Act 2, we learn some new information about the caskets.
Portia says to a new suitor who is the Prince of Morocco:
“You must take your chance or swear before you choose, if you choose
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wrong, never to speak to lady afterward in way of marriage: therefore
We learn from this that if the suitor chooses the wrong casket, he is
never to propose marriage to a woman afterwards.
In scene two, we learn from Lancelot, who is Shylock’s servant, that
living in Shylock’s house is hell and he goes on to describe him as
being the devil:
“To be ruled by my conscience, I should stay with the Jew my master
who, -God bless the mark! - is a kind of devil.”
In scene 3 we are introduced to Shylock’s daughter and what Lancelot
had said in the last scene about Shylock, prepares us for what Jessica
thinks of her father. Lancelot has been offered by Bassanio to go and
work for him, and when he is saying goodbye to Jessica she says:
“Alack, what heinous sin is it in me to be asham’d to be my father’s
We also find out the fact that Jessica is in love with a Christian,
Lorenzo. She hands Lancelot a letter to give to Lorenzo and when he
leaves, she remarks how she is in love with the man.
“O Lorenzo, if thou keep promise, I shall end this strife, become a
Christian and thy loving wife.”
Jessica is intends to run away from her father’s house in order to
In scene 5, Lorenzo and his friends are preparing for the masque,
which is Bassanio’s party. Lancelot arrives and gives the letter from
Jessica to Lorenzo, who reads it and reassures Lancelot that he will
not fail her. When Lorenzo and Gratiano are alone, Lorenzo shows him
the letter sent by Jessica. He tells Gratiano that he is planning to
steal Jessica away from her father’s house, along with a great deal of
her father’s gold and jewels.
In scene 5, when Shylock prepares to leave the house to go to dinner,
he hands Jessica the keys to the house and orders her to lock up the
house. Lancelot privately tells Jessica that Lorenzo will come for her
later on that night, just as Shylock is ready to depart.
In this scene we are shown that there is not much love between the
father and daughter, therefore, Jessica’s elopement with Lorenzo was
“I have a father, you a daughter, lost.”
Scene 6 is where we are shown to true love, as it is the first time,
so far in the play, that Jessica and Lorenzo have seen one another.
Lorenzo arrives at Shylock’s house and calls out to Jessica who
appears at the balcony dressed as a man. She is planning to be a page
for Lorenzo for the masque. She throws out a casket full of her
father’s gold and jewels out to Lorenzo and steals even more ducats
before she finally joins the men on the street.
After this scene we are brought back to the peace of Belmont where the
Prince of Morocco has arrived to make his choice of a casket. We again
learn something new of the caskets. The correct casket contains a
picture of Portia, as she tells the Prince:
“The one of them contains my picture, prince. If you choose that, then
I am yours withal.”
He fails to choose the correct casket, ‘thus losers depart’.
In scene 8, Salarino and Solanio are discussing the current events
that have been going on for the past few scenes. Solanio informs
Salarino about the way in which Jessica’s father reacted when he
realised that his daughter was missing, as well as all of his money:
“…As the dog Jew did utter in the streets: ‘My daughter! O my ducats!
O my daughter!’.”
In scene 9 we again return to the calmness of Belmont where another
suitor has arrived and makes his choice. Portia, happy that the prince
chooses the wrong casket, is informed by her messenger, that a young
Venetian has just arrived. As Portia is eager to see who has arrived,
Nerissa hopes that the man is Bassanio.
“Come, come, Nerissa, for I long to see quick Cupid’s post that comes
“Bassanio, Lord Love, if thy will it be!”
There are two main love plots that we are introduced to in the first
two acts of this play. The first is the one involving Jessica and
Lorenzo. We are not yet told how they met and why they have eloped but
we are informed that there is a very intense love that exists between
them if Jessica is willing to run away from home to get married to
The second is the love plot involving Portia and Bassanio. We are not
yet given much information about what history lies between them,
however, we are quite convinced near the end of act 2 that they are
destined to meet again, as they both hold fond memories of one
another. Nerissa has obviously seen how they have got on in the past
and is confident that they would make a good couple rather than any of
the other suitors, which is why she hopes that Bassanio is the young
Venetian who has arrived at the house. Portia too, is excited at this
news, and we as the audience are further convinced that this love plot
will develop further in the rest of the play.