Plot

A quick overview of what happens in the plot of The Merchant of Venice.
  • Bassanio wants to marry a woman called Portia but he can't afford to pay for his clothes and travel to Belmont to see her, so he asks his friend Antonio if he can borrow some money.

    Did you know?

    Belmont is a fictional place in rural Italy and translates to mean 'beautiful mountain'. Venice, where Antonio and Bassanio live, was a rich city state in the north of the country that would have been well known to audiences. We don’t know whether Shakespeare ever travelled there or not but he also used it as one of the settings in his play Othello.

  • Antonio has no money to lend his friend so he asks Shylock for a loan instead. Shylock agrees to give him the money, but states that if Antonio doesn't pay him back on time he must give a 'pound of his own flesh'.

  • Portia's father set up a 'lottery' in his will, that means anyone who wants to marry his daughter has to pass a test first. Portia and Nerissa watch as several suitors try to win her love, through picking one of three caskets: gold, silver or lead - but they all fail.

  • Shylock’s daughter, Jessica, escapes from his house so that she can marry Lorenzo with help from Lancelet Gobbo. Lorenzo is a Christian and a friend of Bassanio’s.

  • Bassanio arrives in Belmont, with his friend Gratiano, and correctly chooses the lead casket, winning Portia’s hand in marriage. Portia is delighted.

  • Antonio’s ships are lost at sea, meaning he has no way to repay Shylock and will have to face him in court. He writes to Bassanio, who leaves Belmont with Portia's money to try and help his friend.

  • Portia follows Bassanio to the court, in disguise as a male lawyer. She asks Shylock to be merciful but he is determined to take a pound of Antonio's flesh and have his revenge.

  • In front of the Venetian court, Portia examines the original contract between Shylock and Antonio. She tells the court Shylock can only take a pound of flesh if he spills no blood and Shylock admits this isn't possible.

  • Shylock is punished by the court for attempting to kill a Venetian citizen. All of his wealth is seized and he is forced to convert to Christianity.

  • Bassanio returns to Belmont, where Portia reveals that she was the lawyer in disguise. They are are reunited, along with two other couples. Antonio receives the positive news that three of his ships made it safely back to Venice.

Teacher Notes

The following activity is a great way to introduce the story of The Merchant of Venice to a group of students who are getting to know the play.

The story in 10 Units (2015)

The activity can be found on page 3 and takes approximately 40 minutes.

You can also print the ten lines on this page and ask students to work in pairs to arrange them in the order they take place in the play.