Salanio and Salarino are discussing the rumour that some of Antonio's ships have been wrecked. Shylock enters, still furious, intent upon taking the money owed to him by Antonio. Shylock's soliloquy in this section marks the point when we begin to feel a certain pity and sympathy for him as an outsider trying to live in a world that is against him:"Hath not a Jew eyes? hath not a Jew hands, organs,
dimensions, senses, affections, passions? fed with
the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject
to the same diseases, healed by the same means,
warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as
a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed?"
Tubal, a fellow Jew, meets with Shylock and tells him that Jessica has been spending a great deal of the money she stole from her father whilst in Genoa. He tells Shylock that Jessica has pawned a turquoise ring given to her father by her dead mother, Leah. He also tells Shylock that Antonio has lost another boat and faces bankruptcy. Shylock is glad, preferring to carry out his grizzly revenge on Antonio than recoup the loan. Immediately, our sympathy for the Jew is drastically reduced.
Bassanio is preparing to choose the casket in order to win Portia. Whilst he is choosing, Jessica's servants sing a song, all of whose words He does not read the inscriptions, but chooses the lead casket, being a man who enjoys taking risks (he gambled away much of his original fortune). He ignores the gold, thinking of King Midas, and the silver because it reminds him of common money, used to trade amongst men. Inside the lead casket is a portrait of Portia, and the lines:"You that choose not by the view,
Chance as fair and choose as true!"
Thus Bassanio has chosen not for outward appearance, but for inward merit. Portia is overjoyed, and offers herself and everything that she owns to Bassanio. Graziano then tells Bassanio that he has fallen in love with Portia's maid Nerissa. They too wish to get married. It is noticeable here that Shakespeare sees marriage as the ultimate noble goal in life. The endings of many of his comedies (Much Ado About Nothing, Twelfth Night, As You Like It) are made into joyful resolutions through characters marrying amongst themselves. It is interesting also that those characters who are somewhat sidelined from the happiness at the end of The Merchant of Venice - Antonio (who may or may not have homosexual feelings for Bassanio) and Shylock - are unmarried and widowed respectively.
Lorenzo, Jessica and Saliano arrive. Saliano tells Bassanio of Antonio's losses and his approaching bankruptcy. Portia sends Bassanio to Venice with six thousand ducats to write off the contract.
Meanwhile Antonio is being led off to debtor's jail, watched by the gloating Shylock. He pleads with Shylock, but here we are again made aware of Shylock's adherence to the word of the law:"I'll have my bond; speak not against my bond:
have sworn an oath that I will have my bond.
Thou call'dst me dog before thou hadst a cause;
But, since I am a dog, beware my fangs."
Although he may be seen as unforgiving, he has entered into a contract with Antonio and wants that contract fulfilled. It is his method that is vulgar and over the top. This representation alerts us to the fact that The Merchant of Venice is a religious play that has greater profundity than merely contrasting Christianity and Judaism on a surface level. We can see that Shylock belongs to an Old Testament faith where the law is stressed and God is unforgiving and vengeful. The Christians represent a more forgiving, merciful value system, where the law is secondary to the practice of compassion. Antonio, in a show of rather dubious loyalty to Bassanio, states:"Well, gaoler, on. Pray God, Bassanio come
To see me pay his debt, and then I care not!"
Portia and Nerissa, telling Lorenzo that they are going to a monastery to pray in advance of their approaching nuptials, decide to go to Venice dressed as men to see how they can ameliorate the situation. In the final scene of the act, Lancelot and Jessica are arguing as to whether she is eternally damned because both of her parents are Jews. Jessica claims that she can be saved through her husband's Christianity. Lorenzo stops the argument and they dine together.
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