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REALLY short synopses of Shakespearean plays - The Merchant of Venice

Posted by deepakmorris on June 19, 2014 at 2:55 PM

Very often a student or performer is asked to encapsulate a Shakespearean play in a few paragraphs. Having searched high and low and found only really LONG synopses (not really the fault of the writers, Shakespeare is notoriously difficult to summarise), I have decided to make my own short summaries of Shakespeare's plays, beginning with The Merchant of Venice.

Here goes:

Bassanio is a young man in Venice who loves Portia, a rich heiress. Bassanio is poor and thinks he must present himself to Portia in suitable clothes and pomp. He decides to borrow 3,000 ducats. He approaches his good friend Antonio, who is a wealthy merchant. However, Antonio has no ready cash, since he has put his money into his trading ships. Antonio approaches Shylock, a Jewish moneylender, to borrow the money for Bassanio. Shylock is jealous of the Christian Antonio because he lends money without interest. Seeing a chance to trap Antonio, Shylock makes him sign an agreement that if the money and interest is not paid on the due date, Shylock can cut a pound of flesh from Antonio’s body. Antonio is confident that his ships will return in time with money from his trade, so he agrees and signs the agreement.


Bassanio travels to Portia’s house. Portia’s late father has made a will that anyone who wants to marry Portia must solve a riddle to open the box that contains her portrait. Many have tried before and failed but Portia gives Bassanio a hint and he chooses the right box. Bassanio and Portia marry.


Bassanio comes to know that Antonio’s ships have not returned and may have sunk at sea. The due date for the loan has passed and Shylock is demanding the pound of flesh from Antonio’s body. Portia sends Bassanio to the Duke’s court to offer Shylock much more than the amount due to him if he drops the case.


After Bassanio leaves, Portia and her maid Nerissa disguise themselves as a male lawyer and his male clerk and go to the Duke’s court themselves. The Duke allows Portia to argue on behalf of Antonio.


Portia successfully argues that the agreement is for a pound of flesh only. No blood may be shed in the taking of the flesh. Shylock is trapped and loses the case, since he cannot take a pound of flesh without shedding blood. He is punished by having his property taken from him and given to his daughter, who has eloped with a Christian. Shylock himself is forced to convert to Christianity.


Antonio’s ships finally come in and everyone is happy except the ruined Shylock.


Categories: theater, theatre, drama

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