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

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Act 1, Scene 3 of William Shakespeare's "The Merchant of Venice" opens with Bassanio and Shylock, a Jewish moneylender.

Bassanio confirms his request of 3,000 ducats for three months, asserting that Antonio will guarantee this. He asks Shylock if he will give him the loan.

Wanting to hear about the possible guarantor, Shylock asks if Antonio is an honest man. Bassanio takes umbrage at this and asks if he has heard otherwise. Shylock immediately says that no, he has not, but he also knows that Antonio currently has a lot of his wealth and goods at sea, making them vulnerable. Ultimately, Shylock decides that Antonio is still wealthy enough to guarantee the loan:

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 fourth 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 waters, winds and rocks. The man is, notwithstanding, sufficient.
(Shylock; Act 1, Scene 3; Lines 17–26)

Shylock resolves to take Antonio’s bond but wants to speak to him first, so Bassanio invites Shylock to dine with them. However, the Jewish Shylock, citing pork consummation, says that while he will walk with them, talk with them, and do business with them, he will not eat or pray with them.

Antonio then enters and Bassanio introduces him to Shylock. In an aside, Shylock describes his great disdain for Antonio, in part for being a Christian but 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.
(Shylock; Act 1, Scene 3; Lines 41–45)

Shylock tells Bassanio that he doesn’t think he has 3,000 ducats to give him straight away. Entering the conversation, Antonio tells Shylock that he never lends or borrows when interest is involved—he has even publicly derided Shylock in the past for doing so—but that he is willing to make an exception in this case to help a friend:

Signor Antonio, many a time and oft
In the Rialto you have rated me
About my moneys and my usances.
Still have I borne it with a patent shrug
(For suff'rance is the badge of all our tribe).
You call me misbeliever, cutthroat dog,
And spet upon my Jewish gaberdine…
...Well then, it now appears you need my help.
(Shylock; Act 1, Scene 3; Lines 116–122, 124)

Shylock defends his business of money lending, but Antonio tells him that he will continue to disapprove of his methods. To make the arrangement work, Antonio tells Shylock to lend the money as if they are enemies, 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. He adds, though, that if Antonio does forfeit, he will demand a pound of his flesh from whatever part of his body pleases him. Shylock says this seemingly in jest, but Antonio is confident that he can easily repay the loan and agrees anyway. Bassanio urges Antonio to rethink and says that he would rather not get the money than conduct a loan under such conditions.

Antonio assures Bassanio that he will have the money in time. Meanwhile, Shylock reassures him as well, saying that he will gain nothing from a pound of human flesh. Still, Bassanio remains suspicious. Antonio, however, 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.
(Antonio; Act 1, Scene 3; Lines 190–191)