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SCENE SUMMARIES WITH NOTES
ACT III, SCENE 3
In a street in Venice, Antonio pleads with Shylock to forgo the terms of the bond. Shylock, however, closes his ears to all pleas. Antonio realizes that Shylock will have his revenge in payment for all his earlier humiliations.
Salanio expresses the hope that the Duke will intervene and prevent Shylock from claiming his bond; however, the realistic Antonio replies that the Duke has to uphold the law of Venice. He understands that the state relies on trade for its prosperity. Unless justice is strictly upheld, the commercial reputation of Venice will be tarnished, and trade will suffer. Antonio, therefore, abandons all hope. His only wish is that he will be able to bid Bassanio a loving farewell.
Shylock refuses to listen to Antonio's pleas for mercy. He states, "I'll have my bond. Thou call'dst me dog before thou hadst a cause, but since I am a dog, beware my fangs." Shylock insists on his pound of flesh.
Although Salarino tries to console Antonio by saying that the Duke will never allow the bond to be claimed, Antonio knows that the Duke cannot "deny the course of law." Antonio shows he is realistic about life and accepting of his fate. He can accept his death, but he hopes to see Bassanio before he dies. Friendship and loyalty are of utmost importance to this noble man.
ACT III, SCENE 4
Back in Belmont, Lorenzo assures Portia that Antonio truly deserves her generosity in allowing Bassanio to go back to Venice on their wedding day. Portia suddenly says that she and Nerissa have decided to stay in a monastery until Bassanio returns. Lorenzo and Jessica promise to look after her house in her absence.
In fact, Portia has different plans. She secretly instructs her servant Balthazar to deliver a letter to her cousin Dr. Bellario in Padua. He should bring her the robes and the answering note to the ferry bound for Venice. Portia confides in Nerissa that they will soon see their husbands. The two are to dress in borrowed clothes and impersonate the dashing manners of young noblemen.
The conversation between Portia, Lorenzo, and Jessica is in keeping with the nobility and elegance of the well bred. Portia is willing to help Antonio because she feels that she and Antonio are already united through their mutual love of Bassanio. She also feels that the money she has spent is a small price to save such a friend's life.
Portia's avowed intention to spend time in prayer in a monastery is a ruse. She dresses like a nobleman and plans to go to Venice and help Antonio. Portia is delighted at dressing up as a boy. She cleverly imitates a young man's swagger, boasting, and mannerisms. Nerissa, too, joins in this charade with puns and great merriment. In sharp contrast, Jessica is embarrassed and shamed when she assumes a boy's disguise.
ACT III, SCENE 5
Launcelot, the clown who is now Bassanio's servant, has remained in Belmont while his master journeys to Venice. He talks with Jessica in a garden and jests about her salvation, saying that she will be damned for being a Jew. She argues that her marriage to Lorenzo will make her a Christian, and she will be saved.
Lorenzo enters with the news that a Moorish girl is with child by Launcelot. The clown merely replies with a joke. An irritated Lorenzo orders him to see that dinner is ready. After more bantering, Launcelot leaves. Lorenzo asks Jessica what she thinks of Portia. Jessica asserts that Portia is without peer. She feels sure that Bassanio will lead a good life with such a wonderful companion. Lorenzo playfully replies that he is as wonderful a mate as Portia is. The two depart for dinner.
Launcelot teases Jessica about being a Jew and being damned. It, however, is no joking matter; Jessica's salvation is a serious concern to her and to the Elizabethan audience. Lorenzo gives the assurance that her marriage to a Christian and her conversion to Christianity will redeem her.
Launcelot's character has undergone a great change after he has joined Bassanio's service. From a clownish, foolish bumpkin, he is now wise and witty with an inclination to punning. The clown's conversation inspires Lorenzo to pun with Jessica at the end of the scene, although Lorenzo describes himself as a "plain man," who uses "plain words."