'The Merchant of Venice' Act 1, Scene 3 - Summary

19th Century Engraving of the Merchant of Venice
19th Century Engraving of the Merchant of Venice. Getty Images/Andrew Howe

Act 1, Scene 3 opens with Bassanio and Shylock.

Shylock confirms that Bassanio wants three thousand ducats for three months. Bassanio tells him that Antonio will guarantee this. Bassanio asks Shylock if he will give him the loan.

Shylock asks if Antonio is an honest man. Bassanio takes umbrage at this and asks if he has heard otherwise. Shylock immediately says that he has not but understands that Antonio has a lot of his wealth and goods at sea and therefore he knows he has sufficient means but that they are vulnerable;

Yet his means are in supposition. He hath an argosy bound to Tripolis, another to the Indies. I understand moreover upon the Rialto he hath a third at Mexico, a forth for England, and other ventures he hath squandered abroad. But ships are but boards, sailors but men. There be land rats and water rats, water thieves and land thieves – I mean pirates- and then there is the peril of the waters, winds and rocks. The man is, notwithstanding, sufficient.
(Act 1 Scene 3)

Shylock resolves to take Antonio’s bond but wants to speak to him. Bassanio invites Shylock to dine with them. Shylock says that he will walk with them, talk with them do business with them but will not eat or pray with them.

Antonio enters and Bassanio introduces him to Shylock. In an aside, Shylock shows a great distain for Antonio, especially for lending out his money for free:

How like a fawning publican he looks. I hate him for he is a Christian; But more, for in that low simplicity he lends out money gratis, and brings down the rate of usance here with us in Venice.
(Act 1 Scene 3, Line 39-43)

Shylock tells Bassanio that he doesn’t think he has three thousand ducats to give him straight away. Antonio tells Shylock that he never lends money out in order to gain exorbitant interest and condemns him for doing so; he has publicly derided Shylock for doing so in the past, but says he is willing to make an exception in dealing with Shylock in this case.

Signor Antonio, many a time and oft in the Rialto you have rated me about my moneys and my usances. Still I have borne it with a patent shrug, For sufferance is the badge of all our tribe. You call me misbeliever, cut throat, dog and spit upon my Jewish gabardine…Well then it now appears you need my help.
(Shylock, Act 1 Scene 3, Line 105-113)

Shylock defends his business of money lending but Antonio tells him that he will continue to disapprove of his methods. Antonio tells Shylock to lend the money to him as if he is an enemy and as such he can punish him heavily if the money is not paid back.

Shylock pretends to forgive Antonio and tells him that he will treat him as a friend and charge no interest on the loan but that if he does forfeit he says, seemingly in jest, that he will demand a pound of his flesh from whatever part of his body pleases him. Antonio is confident that he can easily repay the loan and agrees. Bassanio urges Antonio to rethink and says that he does not want to agree to those conditions.

Antonio reassures him. Shylock also reassures Bassiano by saying that he will gain nothing from a pound of human flesh. Bassiano remains suspicious, Antonio believes that Shylock has become kinder and therefore could be becoming more Christian;

Hie thee gentle Jew. The Hebrew will turn Christian; he grows kind.
(Act 1 Scene 3, Line 176)