How did Antonio behave with Shylock

The merchant of Venice

William Shakespeare's comedy "The Merchant of Venice", published in 1600 and premiered in 1605, is set in Venice and at the Belmont country estate in the 16th century. Since the successful Venetian merchant Antonio cannot repay a loan from the Jew Shylock on the due date, he is supposed to forfeit his life according to the contract. In a second storyline, the wealthy heiress Portia receives several marriage candidates on Belmont, including Bassanio, Antonios' close friend, who have to solve the riddle of the three boxes.


1st act

The melancholy Antonio is a skillful and rich Venetian merchant, all of whose merchant ships are currently on their way to Venice. His friends Salerio, Solanio and the talkative Gratiano attribute Antonio's inexplicable melancholy to the understandable concern for his ships.

Bassanio hesitantly asks Antonio for a loan to enable him to advertise Portia. With no cash until his ships arrive, Antonio is immediately ready to take out a loan to help his beloved friend.

Meanwhile, in Belmont, Portia complains to her confidante Nerissa about her dependence on the last will of her father: In his will, he decreed that a candidate had to choose from three boxes he had left and that the choice would prove to be a suitable or unsuitable groom. Portia mocks most of the candidates, only Bassanio finds grace in their eyes.

Although he is despised by the Christians of Venice and publicly insulted by Antonio in particular because of usury, the Jew Shylok agrees to borrow Bassanio three thousand ducats, for which Antonio will guarantee. Like the Christians, Shylock waives interest, but instead demands the right to cut a pound of meat of his choice from Antonio's body if he does not pay on the due date. Antonio is certain that he will be solvent when his ships arrive, and the contract is made.


2nd act

The daring Prince of Morocco appears in Belmont and wants to be the first to try his luck and choose from the boxes the one that contains the portrait of Portia. If he makes the wrong choice, he must remain celibate for life.

In Venice, the fool Lancelot Gobbo, who was previously in Shylock's service, goes to Bassiano's house as a servant. Shylok's daughter Jessica, who is engaged to Bassanio's boyfriend Lorenzo and who hopes to become a Christian through the connection, gives Lancelot a letter for Lorenzo. The letter contains a plan for Jessica's kidnapping from her father's house.

While Shylok reluctantly accepts Bassanio's invitation to dinner, Lorenzo and his friends free Jessica, disguised as a page, who takes a large part of her father's fortune with her.

 In the meantime, the Prince of Morocco in Belmont makes his choice after careful consideration. He disdains the silver box with the inscription: "Whoever chooses me gets as much as he deserves." As well as the leaden one with the inscription: "Whoever chooses me gives and dares to do everything." He chooses the gold one Small box that reads: "Whoever chooses me wins what many a man desires." Instead of Portia's portrait, he finds a skeleton in it. The second applicant, the Prince of Arragon, later discovers the image of a fool in the silver box.

Bassiano, accompanied by Gratiano, is on the way to Belmont, while in Venice Solanio and Salerio mock Shylock, who is furious about his daughter's betrayal. They also talk about Antonio's pain when his friend left and the possible loss of one of Antonio's ships.


3rd act

The rumor of the loss of the ship is confirmed. Shylok again laments the betrayal of his daughter and accuses the Christians of their discriminatory behavior towards Jews and their Phariseeism in a haunting monologue. He makes it clear that he will insist on the fulfillment of the contract on the part of Antonio and that he wants his heart.

In Belmont, Bassanio has meanwhile chosen the leaden box and thus won Portia, who confesses her love for him. She gives him a ring that he should never give away under any circumstances. Bassanio's friend Gratiano and Portia's confidante Nerissa also become a couple.

A farewell letter to Bassanio from Antonio bursts into the happy mood. Since all his ships are lost and he is therefore insolvent, Shylock will demand his death. Bassanio is dismayed and rushes to Venice to help his friend who is in custody. Desperate and in vain, Antonio seeks a conversation with Shylock, who insists on his rights.

Portia puts Lorenzo and Jessica in charge of the Belmont house. Portia travels to Venice with the clothes and writings of her cousin Doctor Bellario from Padua. Lancelot prophesies eternal damnation for the left-behind Jessica as the daughter of a Jew. Jessica, on the other hand, believes that she has won eternal life by marrying Lorenzo.


4th act

Under the chairmanship of the Doge of Venice, the trial against Antonio takes place, in which Shylock refuses the money offered by Bassanio and demands his right to Antonio's life. Because the legal expert Bellario from Padua, who was requested by the Doge, is allegedly unable to attend due to illness, he has transferred the case to a young doctor Balthasar from Rome. Nerissa, disguised as a lawyer clerk, hands the doge a letter of recommendation.

Portia appears as Balthasar in the robe of a legal scholar. After hearing the parties, she first confirms the legality of Shylock's claim. Her following monologue on grace cannot soften Shylock any more than Bassani’s willingness to pay multiples of the debt. Portia lets Shylock prepare for the act, and Antonio bows to the verdict.

Shylock already has the knife and scales ready when Portia urges compliance with the contract in the interests of the accused: one pound must be cut out precisely and no blood should be shed. Shylock realizes the impossibility and gives up. He is now seen as someone who tried to kill a Venetian, for which he in turn faces punishment. The Doge gives Shylock his life, but orders Shylock's property to be divided between Antonio and the state. Antonio renounces his share. For this, Shylock has to be baptized and bequeath his property to his son-in-law after death.

Bassanio wants to show his appreciation to the supposed Balthasar, but he asks nothing but Bassanio's ring. Citing Portia's words, Bassanio initially refuses to hand it over, but Antonio is able to persuade him to part with the ring. When Gratiano brings the ring to Portia, Nerissa, as a lawyer clerk, decides to have her husband also give her her ring.


5th act

In Belmont, Portia and Nerissa are initially indignant when they learn from Bassanio and Gratiano, who arrive with Antonio, that they have given away their rings. They reveal the secret of their temporary double identities, and in the end all couples are happily reunited. Antonio is moved to learn that three of his galleys and thus his existence have been saved.


The classification of the complex piece with its uncomfortable questions as a comedy is sometimes contradicted. Because of the overwhelming attention that directors and audiences pay to the character of the Jew Shylock, and the countless discussions about anti-Semitism, it is often overlooked that for Shakespeare the melancholy Antonio was the main character of the play. With Antonio's love for the easygoing Bassanio, the Elizabethan poet takes up an ideal of the Renaissance: friendship between men versus heterosexual love (ring motif).