The Merchant of Venice, Act 4 Summary

Scene 1, Lines 1-163

Antonio’s trials begins in the court. The duke expresses his grief over Antonio’s condition and calls Shylock as evil and malicious as no human would inflict such harm on another human. Antonio responds by saying that he knows how much the duke has tried to do things in his power but Shylock’s evil intentions cannot be budged and that he has nothing else but to follow Shylock into his doom.

The duke then calls for Shylock and coaxes him into thinking about the horrific act that is to follow. He says that Shylock is doing this only to scare Antonio and that there isn’t any proper reason as to why he is doing so. Shylock remains silent throughout and at the end says that personal reasons and his hatred towards Antonio is enough for him to seek his revenge.

Bassanio has arrived at Venice and rushes to argue and plead with Shylock to show mercy on his friend by Antonio warns him that all his pleas will fall on a deaf ear. Bassanio offers to pay six thousand ducats, twice the original amount but Shylock turns the offer down by saying in no circumstance will he budge anymore.

Antonio calls out that for some men hatred and predation comes very naturally like the wolf. The duke then asks Shylock how does he expect mercy when he himself has none to show, to which the latter replies that he hasn’t done anything wrong. Shylock says “The pound of flesh which I demand of him/ is dearly bought. ‘Tis mine, and I will have it.

The duke then announces that he is waiting for a learned lawyer’s judgement when news come that a mess gamer has arrived from Doctor Bellario and Salarino rushes to revive him. Bassanio tries to cheer Antonio up in the meanwhile but to no avail. Nerissa enters, dressed as lawyer’s clerk, and gives the duke a letter from Bellario. Shylock, in the meanwhile, starts polishing his knife as he is confident that the judgment will be in his favour while Gratiano calls him out for having the soul of a wolf.

The duke says that Bellario has send forth a hound lawyer named Balthazar who is to preside over the matters and he beckons for Balthazar to be brought in. The duke then sits to read the letter where Bellario has written that he is ill and instead of coming over himself, he is sending over a learned young lawyer to take the stand in place of him.

Scene 1, Lines 164-396

Portia enters, dressed as the young lawyer, Balthazar and greets the duke that she is aware of the circumstances of the case. Antonio and Shylock are presented in the front of the court and Portia asks Antonio whether he admits owing money to Shylock. When Antonio admits to that, Portia turns towards Shylock and requests him to show mercy. When asked by Shylock why he should show mercy, Portia quotes one of the greatest speech in the play saying “the quality of mercy is not strained.

She says mercy is an attribute of God and one should exercise the divine act. Shylock refuses to budge and claims for justice. Portia then asks Antonio whether he will be able to pay back the money to which Bassanio jumps up and says that he is willing to pay twice the sun or even ten times the amount of that will save his friend’s life. Bassanio then requests Portia to bend the law in his friend’s favour as she seemed like a just lawyer but Portia retorted that law cannot be undone and justice shall be given.

Shylock is overjoyed to hear that and hands over the bond for closer inspection. Portia goes through the bond and declares that it’s legal and binding and since Shylock refuses to be merciful, Portia tells Antonio to prepare himself for the knife. Portia as a last act of mercy asks Shylock to have a surgeon at hand so that Antonio doesn’t bleed to death but Shylock refuses as no such claim has been made in the bond.

Antonio bids Bassanio farewell and tells him not to grieve after his death as he has lived life fully with Bassanio and is proving his love for him by dying. Sarcastically, Bassanio and Gratiano says that they would have given up their wives only if that means saving him. Portia and Nerissa upon hearing that, mutters to themselves that their wives will be less appreciative of the sentiment.

Shylock finally gets ready and pounces on Antonio for his revenge, with the knife in his hand, when Portia stops him. She reminds him that according to the bond, Shylock is entitled only to one kind of Antonio’s flesh, not a pound more or less, and that if he sheds a drop of blood, then he will be charged for conspiring against a Venetian citizen and that all of his land and property will be handed over to the state.

Shylock slowly realizes that he has pushed himself into a trap and quickly dismisses it by saying that he will agree to accept three times the sun but Portia stops him saying that he can only take either a pound of flesh or nothing else. Shylock then drops the case but Portia then charges him for trying to threaten the life of a Venetian citizen.

According to the penalty c half of Shylock’s property will be seized by the state and the other half will to the accused, Antonio and Shylock must beg for mercy at the hands of the duke. The duke pardons Shylock with just a fine and Shylock begs him to take away his life as what good will come to him to live life without his estate.

Antonio shows him mercy by giving him back half the estate only if Shylock converts to Christianity and that he writes in his will that after his death all his property will go to his daughter, Jessica and her husband, Lorenzo. Shylock agrees to it and quickly departs from the scene by saying he is unwell. 

Scene 1, Lines 397-453

After the court has been adjourned, the duke invites Portia to dinner but Portia declines the offer by saying she and her assistant must make haste for Padua. As she is about to depart, the duke insists Antonio on a parting gift to her for saving his life. Bassanio earnestly thanks Portia, unable to see through her visage and offers her money but Portia declines the gift and says having delivered the right justice is enough for her.

Bassanio keeps on pressing her so Portia finally asks for the ring on his hand which was actually a gift from Portia who told him not to eber part with it. Bassanio, remembering the promise, quickly puts his hand away by saying it’s a trifle thing and he will not dishonor the lawyer by gifting it but Portia keeps on insisting.

When Bassanio finally tells her the truth behind the ring, Portia dismisses it as a convenient excuse all men use to not part with something expensive to them. Saying so, Portia takes her leave and Antonio urges Bassanio to part with the ring saying that his love and the gentleman’s worth is much more than Portia’s orders. Bassanio agrees to that and hands the ring over to Gratiano who runs after Portia and hands the ring to her. Antonio and Bassanio then get ready to leave for Belmont. 

Scene 2 

In the meantime, Portia searches for Shylock’s house with Nerissa to notarize the deed and says that Lorenzo will be quite happy once the deed comes through. Gratiano catches them and hands over Bassanio’s ring to Portia and invites her to dinner but Portia declines the offer and request Gratiano to show her assistant Shylock’s house.

Nerissa quietly whispers to Portia that she too will try to acquire the ring which she gave to Gratiano as a token of their love. The plan satisfies Portia and she wonders what arguments the two men will present once they accuse them of parting with the ring. Gratiano then leaves with Nerissa showing her the way to Shylock’s house.