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The Merchant of Venice Act 1 Scene 1 Summary Workbook Answers
The Merchant of Venice Act 1 Scene 1 Summary
The play starts with Antonio, a rich merchant of Venice, complaining to his friends about a melancholy that he cannot find any reasons for, his friends feel that it could be because of the worry regarding the safety of his merchant ships that may be threatened by storms or sea pirates. Antonio denies this by saying that his merchandise is widely distributed and does not depends upon those ships only. Solanio says that it may be due to love, but Antony dissents this and states that, he hates falling in love. So his friends attribute the melancholy to his ‘strange’ nature.
After the departure of these two friends, Bassanio, Gratiano and Lorenzo arrives. Gratiano teases Antonio by suggesting that he is too much bothered about the opinion of the world or he wants to appear as a wise man. Antonio replies that he treats the world ‘but as the stage’, a stage every man has to do a role and his is a sad one. Gratiano immediately responds, and says that he is not the one willing to be sad, he wants to enjoy his youth before the age descends upon him. He departs by advicing Antonio to overcome his sadness and not to be its victim.
When he is left alone with Bassanio, he asks his friend about his visit to a lady. Bassanio then confesses that he is in love with a rich lady from Belmont, but without any money, because of his extravagant nature, he’ll not find a chance to woo the lady. He will be at a disadvantage as compared with the other rich suitors. He requested Antonio to lend him sufficient money, but Antonio does not have any ready cash as his ‘fortunes are at sea’ but offers to stand as a guarantee for a credit to raise the money.
The Merchant of Venice Act 1 Scene 1 Summary Word Meanings
- in sooth – truly
- want-wit – a dull fellow
- argosies – merchant ships
- signiors – gentlemen
- portly – stately
- burghers – citizens
- pageants – decorated floats
- overpeer – look over the heads of
- petty traffickers – small commercial boats
- reverence – respect
- woven wings – canvas sails
- broth – soupshallows and of
- flats – shallow waters and sandbanks
- Andrew – common name for big ships
- dock’d – run ashore
- bechanced – happened
- Janus – a Roman God at doors who has two faces-one frowning and the other smiling
- vinegar aspect – bitter nature
- Nestor – an old and wise Greek General who would not laugh at silly jokes
- marvelously – considerably
- let my liver – a liver environed by wine will produce rich blood that will enliven one’s disposition
- mortifying – miserable
- alabaster – marble white stone used in making statues
- jaundice – sickly and complaining
- profound conceit – deep thought,
- ope – open
- gudgeon – a small foolish fish easily caught
- exhortation – good advice
- a neat’s tongue dried – an ox-tongue preserved and ready to be eaten
- prodigal – extravagant
- aged – in debt extremest
- means – utmost capacity or resources
- shaft – arrow,latter
- hazard – second loan
- fleece – wool
- Jasons – adventurous sailors
- presages – prophesies
- thrift – profitable success
- rack’d – stretched.
The Merchant of Venice Act 1 Scene 1 Summary Questions and Answers
1. Antonio :
In sooth, I know not why I’m so sad :
It wearies me; you say it wearies you;
But how I caught it, found it, or came by it,
What stuff ’tis made of, whereof it is born,
I am to learn;
And such a want-wit sadness makes of me.
That I have much ado to know myself.
To whom are these words addressed? Where are the characters?
These words are addressed to Salerio and Solanio, friends of Antonio. The characters are on a street in Venice.
Explain : ‘And such a want-wit sadness makes of me,
That I have much ado to know myself.
Antonio means that his sadness has made him act in a foolish manner. He finds it difficult to recognize himself in this present mood and claims given to the ignorant of the source of his woe.
Explain the meaning of the given extract.
Antonio, the merchant feels sad but he doesn’t know the reason for his sadness. It makes him melancholic, but he doesn’t know from where he got it, what it consists of or of what origin it is! The sadness makes him such an idiot that he has trouble in recognizing himself.
What reasons does his friend give for Antonio’s state of mind?
Antonio’s friends think that he is feeling depressed because he is worried about his ships laden with precious cargo floating in the sea. He is anxious about the safety of his ships.
What purpose does Shakespeare achieve by beginning the play in this manner?
The merchant of Venice is a tragic comedy. It possesses many depressing incidents. The gloomy opening sets the stage for that. Antonio has a vague premonition of the misfortune that is about to overtake him. Shakespeare leaves the audience with vague forebodings of future calamity.
2. Salerio :
Your mind is tossing on the ocean,
There where your argosies with portly sail,
Like signiors and rich burghers on the flood.
Or, as it were, the pageants of the sea,
Do overpeer the petty traffickers,
That curtsy to them, do them reverence,
As they fly by them with their woven wings.
Who is being addressed? Apart from the two characters, who else is there with them?
Salerio is addressing Antonio. Apart from these two characters, Solanio is also there.
To what remarks of the listener, does Salerio make these comments? To what are the ships compared? How do the shops move? What is meant by ‘petty traffickers’? What do they do when they see the argosies?
Antonio talks about a vague sadness that troubles his mind. He says it makes him a dull-wit, making him difficult to understand himself. To this, Salerio replies that it may be due to his anxiety about the safety of his precious cargo in his ships tossed about by the unpredictable seas. The ships are comparable to gentlemen and rich citizens who walk in a stately manner overlooking the commoners.
Give the meanings of:
(a) Argosies of Portly sail
(b) Pageants of the sea
(c) Woven Wings
(a) Argosies of Portly sail – the phrase means merchant ships loaded with rich cargos sailing majestically on the seas.
(b) Pageants of the sea – pageants are decorated floats moving in a procession.
(c) Woven wings – canvas sails.
How would have Solanio behaved if he had such Argosies on the sea? What would have made him sad?
Solanio would have been so concerned about his business ventures on the sea that he will be holding-up a grass to know the direction of the wind, looking over the maps for ports and channels. He would be scared to look at any object that would remind him of the risks at sea.
Do you think these are the reasons which make Antonio sad? Give reasons.
Antonio is not sad thinking about the safety of his cargo. In fact he is rather confident as his cargo is distributed in various ships. His fate is not dependent on the fate of a one ship or in one place.
Explain briefly as to what Salerio has tried to convey in the last five lines.
Salerio presented a beautiful image of the richly-laden ships of Antonio. Those ships were referred as to the nobleman who tower above the smaller trading merchants, similarly large vessel ships would surpass the smaller merchant ship which would bow before them due to respect. Antonio’s ship would pass the small vessels at a high speed because their sails were like the wings which enable birds to fly through the air.
What idea does the reader gets about Antonio’s financial status? What is its significance in the play?
From Salerio’s description, the reader gets to know that Antonio is one of the richest merchants in Italy. He has several merchant ships that are currently on sail. When his ships sail on the ocean, it seems a royal procession is on, and the other ships like common people, bow in front of royalty.
It is significant information, showing that Antony is the titular hero, who unfortunately suffers from some set- back, and fail to settle the bond with Shylock: this leads to the very famous Bond story, one of highlights of the play.
3. Salerio :
My wind, cooling my broth,
Whould blow me to an ague, when I thought
What harm a wind too great might do at sea.
I should not see the sandy hour-glass run
But I should think of shallows and of flats,
And see my wealthy Andrew dock’d in sand
Vailing her high-top lower than her ribs
To kiss her burial.
What would be the feelings of the speaker if he saw the wind cooling his broth?
Salerio says that if his business ventures are in the sea, he would be anxious and his thoughts would travel to them at every point of time as if he is cooling the hot soup with his breath. He would be worried about the powerful wind that may make the ships lose direction and would make him tremble in the same way as he is suffering from high fever trembles.
What is meant by ‘sandy hour-glass’? How would the speaker feel if he saw the hour glass?
In ancient days a glass full of sand was to indicate the passing of time. The sight of the sand in the hour glass would remind him of danger of hidden sand banks and shallow water. The danger of the ship getting stuck in the sand where the water is not sufficiently deep for a ship to sail over it smoothly.
Give the meanings of:
(b) Shallows and flats
(c) Wealthy Andrew
(a) Ague – fever that makes one tremble.
(b) Shallows and flats – shallow waters and sand banks.
(c) Wealthy Andrew – richly laden ship.
What is referred to as ‘Wealthy Andrew’? Why is it so?
Wealthy Andrew means ship carrying expensive cargo. The richly laden ship might get stuck in sand. The ship might over turn with its top-sails plunging low into the water and getting buried in the sand.
How does Antonio reply to his speech?
Antonio says he is not worried about losing his money as his fortune does not depend on one ship; he has many ships going in different directions
and even if something happens to one ship other ships are there to compensate for the loss.
4. Salerio :
Should I go to church
And see the holy edifice of stone,
And not bethink me straight of dangerous rocks,
Which touching but my gentle vessel’s side
Would scatter all her spices on the stream,
Enrobe the roaring waters with my silks;
And, in a word, but even now worth this,
And now worth nothing?
How would Salerio feel if he goes to a church?
Salerio says that if he goes to church seeing the stone building, he would be reminded of the rocks in the sea which might touch the sides of his gentle ships and make holes in them, and then all his rich spices, silks and other valueable material would be scattered in the ocean.
Bring out the context of the extract.
In the opening scene, we see Antonio in a sad state of mind. His friends Salerio and Solanio ask him for the reasons behind his sadness. Antonio is unable to figure out his sadness. So the friends feel it may be because of the anxiety for his precious cargo tossing on the ocean.
Salerio says that if he had been in Antonio’s place, he would start getting frightened if he saw the church building. The stone edifice would remind him of the rocks in the sea that might harm his ships making the entire cargo float in the sea. It is like owning so much in one minute and losing everything in the next moment.
What is the ‘holy edifice’? What will it signify to him ? What is the symbolic meaning of the comparison drawn?
The holy edifice is the stone building of the church. It would remind him of the dangerous rocks in the sea, which might cause immense damage to his imaginary ship. The symbolic meaning is that life is so unpredictable. We build-up expectations but what happens the next minute is nobodys prediction. “There is many a slip between the cup and the lip”.
Explain the following: ‘but even now worth this and now worth nothing’.
Just before an imaginary disaster Salerio’s imaginary ship ‘Andrew’ would be worth a fortune, but after its wreckage, it would worth nothing. All its rich merchandise would be washed away by the waves of the sea.
What would be the feelings of Solanio, if his argosies had been out in the sea?
Solanio says that if his cargo is in the sea, then he will be every time anxious about its safety. He will be holding the grass to determine the direction of the wind and looking over the maps to study sea ports and channels and every object that might suggest misfortune to his business schemes will depress him.
Give meanings of:
(a) My gentle vessel’s side
(b) Enrobe the roaring waters
(a) My gentle vessel’s side-gentle vessel is Antonio’s precious ship. The speaker says Antonio is worried thinking whether the rugged rocks in the sea, will strike against the sleek sides of the ship.
(b) Enrobe the roaring waters-cover the sea with the rich cargo of costly spices and silks.
5. Salerio :
Now, by two-headed Janus,
Nature hath fram’d strange fellows in her time :
Some that will evermore peep through their eyes,
And laugh like parrots at a bag-piper;
And other of such vinegar aspect
That they’ll not show their teeth in way of smile,
Though Nestor swear the jest be laughable.
Explain the comparison drawn out with Janus?
When Antonio says that the cause of his sadness is not the anxiety about his ships, nor love, Salerio swears by the Roman God, the two headed Janus, who sports a smiling face and a sad face. It implies that there are two opposite kinds of men.
Some always look out through half closed eyes as they are always laughing without any reason, even at the sound of the bagpipers. Others have a sour expression that they will not open their lips to smile even at a very pleasing joke or an amusing joke.
Who is Nestor? Why is he mentioned here?
Nestor was an old and the wise Greek General who fought in the Trojan War. A joke had to be extremely funny to make him laugh. Here he is mentioned to show that there are such people with sour disposition that they will not laugh at any point of time.
(a) Laugh like parrots at a bag piper
(b) Vinegar aspect
(a) Laugh like parrots at a bag piper – the music of a bagpiper was considered woeful which should bring on tears not laughter. The parrot is a bird believed to be foolish and laughs at everything even in a mournful tune.
(b) Vinegar aspect – sour expression. There are human beings who have such a gloomy aspect that they would not show their teeth by smiling at a joke.
What conclusion does Salerio come with the sadness of Antonio?
Salerio says that Antonio is unhappy as he is not happy; certain people are of such disposition that they are unhappy without any reason.
Comment on the parting remark of Salerio.
Salerio says that he would have stayed longer with Antonio till he forgot his sadness and felt merry if worthier friends like Bassanio had not come to visit him at that time. He is sure that they are better company and Antonio will enjoy with them. He and Solanio will meet Antonio at leisure when time permits, after their business is over.
6. Gratiano :
Let me play the fool:
With mirth and laughter let old wrinkles come,
And let my liver rather heat with wine
Than my heart cool with mortifying groans.
Why should a man, whose blood is warm within,
Sit like his grandsire cut in alabaster,
Sleep when he wakes, and creep into the jaundice
By being peevish ?
What observation had Gratiano earlier made regarding Antonio? Is he correct in his observation?
Gratiano had remarked that Antonio didn’t seem well. He felt that Antonio was too concerned with the worldly affairs. He advises him that people lose everything when they worry over their business. According to him, Antonio has changed a lot. He is not correct as far as the reason for Antonio’s sadness is concerned. Antonio is buffering from a melancholy but not because of anxiety over his business.
To what comment made by Antonio does Gratiano give this reply? Who else are there with Gratiano at this moment?
Antonio replied to Gratiano’s words by saying that he gives as much importance to worldly affairs as required. According to him, the world is a stage where every man has to play a role. His role is a sad one. It is to this comment Gratiano makes this reply. Bassanio and Lorenzo are with him.
What does the speaker prefer to do? What does it depicts about his character?
The speaker prefers to have wrinkles made with laughter on his face. He wants to be merry and play the fool rather is a victim of sadness. This shows that Gratiano has a positive approach to life. He sees the brighter side of things and does not worry too much about worldly affairs.
Give the meaning of: And let my liver groans.
Gratiano says that he would not mind to drink wine heavily even if his liver gets damaged. He doesn’t want to starve his heart with fun and feel worried about death. In other words, he believes in enjoying life rather than wallow in trivial matters.
Explain : ‘grandsire cut in alabaster’ and ‘creep into the jaundice by being peevish’.
Gratiano believes that a man with warm blood flowing through him should not sit like an expressionless and motionless statue of his grandfather’s tomb. He should not weaken his heart by groaning; Neither he should be sleepy during waking hours and behave in an irritated manner as though he is suffer¬ing from jaundice.
What’s the Elizabethan belief about jaundice?
Elizabethan believed that the jaundice was caused because of anxiety, jealousy and bad temper. They believed there’s a close connection between the mind and the body.
7. Gratiano :
There are a sort of men whose visages
Do cream and mantle like a standing pond,
And do a wilful stillness entertain.
With purpose to be dress’d in an opinion
Of wisdom, gravity, profound conceit,
As who should say, ‘I am Sir Oracle,
And when I ope my lips, let no dog bark !’
According to Gratiano why is he speaking in such a stem manner? To whom are these words being addressed to?
Gratiano’s love for Antonio makes him speak in this manner. He doesn’t want his friend becoming a victim of melancholy. These words are being addres¬sed to Antonio.
What sorts of men are described here? How do they look?
Men who refuse to smile, who sport an expressionless face are descri¬bed here. Their faces look like the motionless waters of the lakes whose surface is covered with scum.
Explain- “Do cream and mantle like a standing pool”.
Still waters in a pool or lake are covered with scum preventing any movement. In the same way some people wear an artificial layer of expression of seriousness to earn a reputation of wisdom.
According to the speaker why do some men put on an air of solem¬nity?
According to Gratiano, some people put on an air of solemnity to show that they are wise and mature. They put on an air of ‘Sir Oracle’ who speaks only wisdom. Actually, it is to escape from being branded fools.
Later on he refers to gudgeon. In what context is he referred to? What opinion do you get of Gratiano from this scene? What does Lorenzo say later about him?
Gudgeon is a small unworthy fish easily caught. Gratiano asks Antonio not to throw the melancholic bait to catch the cheap fish called popularity. We feel Gratiano speaks a lot but whatever he says has a lot of meaning.
He is philosophical and gives good advice to Antonio. Moreover, he loves Antonio and wants to cheer him with his witty talk. Later on, Lorenzo says that when Gratiano speaks, he never gets a chance to speak.
How does Gratiano prefer to have wrinkles? Why? Give another instance where he reveals his preference for enjoying life. What does he say about grandfather cut in alabaster?
Gratiano prefers to have wrinkles with mirth and laughter. He is basically a jolly good fellow who wants to spread cheer among his friends. He also says that he would rather heat his liver with wine than cool his heart with miserable groans. Alabaster is a kind of clay or stone of which statues are made up.
Gratiano wonders why anybody with warm blood in him sits like the statue of his grandfather cut in marble, and appear sleeping in the morning hours when he has to be active and cheerful.
(a) ‘I am Sir Oracle’
(b) Let no dog bark
(a) ‘I am Sir Oracle’- Sir Oracle is the wisest and most respected person, who can prophesy the future. A person, in fear of revealing his ignorance, can behave like sir Oracle and keep silent and pretend like a wise man. Sir Oracle seems to say that when he speaks in all his wisdom, other common people should remain quiet.
(b) Let no dog bark- They are the dogs that should stop barking.
What was Gratiano’s advice to Antonio in the end of his speech? Brief it.
Gratiano advise Antonio to give up his serious and melancholic expression. He should not behave like some fake people, who pretend wise to cover up their ignorance. He should be more communicative and share his feelings with his friends. He asks him to cheer up and not tot go around looking so glum.
8. Bassanio :
Tis not unknown to you, Antonio,
How much I have disabled mine estate.
By something showing a more swelling port
Than my faint means would grant continuance :
Nor do I now make moan to be abridg’d
From such a noble rate.
To what inquiry of Antonio does the speaker make this reply? What details do you get about the lady later in this scene?
Antonio inquires about the lady to whom Bassanio has decided to pay a visit secretly. Later in the scene, Bassanio informs that there is a rich lady from Belmont who is fairer than the word beautiful. She has great virtues. Her name is Portia and is as worthy as Cato’s daughter and Brutus’ wife. The whole world is aware of her worth. Many suitors are on their way to win her hand, but since she has given him silent messages through her lovely eyes, Bassanio is hopeful of wooing her.
What does Bassanio mean by ‘disabled mine estate’? Why does he say this?
By ‘disabled mine estate’, Bassanio means that he has wasted his fortune. He says this because he had been living in a way more lavish manner than his means permits.
What do you understand by the term ‘to be abridged’? Why is Bassanio forced ‘to be abridged’? Does he feel sorry for it? What does this show of his character? What is his chief care now?
‘To be abridged’ means ‘to be curtailed’. Bassanio was forced to be abridged because he could not maintain his high standard of living with his present insufficient monetary resources.
He does not feel sorry for it. This shows that Bassanio is aware of his shortcomings and is ready to take the blame on himself. His immediate priority now is to honorably clear off his debt and have enough money to visit Belmont.
How much does Bassanio rate Antonio in his affection and res¬pect?
Bassanio considers Antonio as his true friend. He has confidence in Antonio that he can share with him all his thoughts and worries. He can reveal all his plans to him. He is sure Antonio will help him out as always with his money and affection.
What opinions have you formed about the speaker’s character ?
Bassanio initially comes across as a spoilt brat who has squandered away all his money in living a lavish lifestyle. He shamelessly asks Antonio’s help to enable him to woo a rich lady with a promising fortune. But later on, we find that he is not such an irresponsible and uncaring person.
He was reassuring Antonio that he would be returning the money once his mission is accomplished. He is frank in confessing about his shortcomings. Also the scene reveals that he has an optimistic enthusiasm which motivates him to search for a fortune rather than waiting for the fortune to come to him.
9. Bassanio :
In my school-days, when I had lost one shaft,
I shot his fellow of the self-same flight
The self-same way with more advised watch,
To find the other forth; and by adventuring both,
I oft found both.
In what context does Bassanio speak these words?
Bassanio speaks these words to Antonio in order to reveal his depleted circumstances. He confesses that his wayward living has made him lose his fortune. But he has a plan to make his life better. For whlchhe requires Antonio’s help.
Bring out the meaning of the extract. What does he want to establish with this childhood example?
In the above extract, Bassanio talks about his school days when he sometimes shot an arrow from his bow and then could not find it. So, in order to locate that arrow, he used to shoot another one having same size, weight and capacity to travel through the air in the same direction. This time he used to maintain a greater alertness as to the point at which it was likely to fall.
Then he used to search for both the arrows and often find both of them. With this childhood example, he wants to convince Antonio for lending him a second loan so that he may be able to recover even the money which was lent earlier to him by Antonio.
What aspect of the speaker’s personality is revealed here?
The speaker’s words shows his boyish belief. He is pinning his hope on a childhood example but the very determination in his voice proves that he is not ready to cry over the losses but is ready to make an attempt and try to compensate his losses.
What assurance does the speaker give here?
The speaker assures Antonio that he need not worry about the loan; he’ll definitely get enough money to pay.
How does Antonio respond to these words?
Antonio says that he doesn’t have to waste his time by confessing his love. In fact, he wrongs him by doubting his readiness to help him with money. He just has to tell him what he wants and he will be obliged to do it.
10. Bassanio :
Nor is the wide world ignorant of her worth,
For the four winds blow in from every coast
Renowned suitors; and her sunny locks
Hang on her temples like a golden fleece;
Which makes her seat of Belmont Colchis’ strand,
And many Jasons come in quest of her.
O my Antonio, had I but the means
To hold a rival place with one of them,
I have a mind presages me such thrift
That I should questionless be fortunate.
Who is the lady being talked about? Why is the speaker talking about her at this time?
The lady being talked about here is Portia, a rich and a beautiful lady, whom Bassanio met at Belmont. Bassanio is talking about her at this time because he wants to woo her and win her hand but as he has no money, he asks Antonio to lend him some more money which he promises to repay after his marriage.
Explain the meaning of ‘Nor is the wide world ignorant of her worth, For the four winds blow in from every coast Renowned suitors’. To whom this lady has been compared in the extract and in what way?
Bassanio says that the whole world knows about the worth of Portia and famous suitors from every coast are sailing towards Belmont with the desire of marrying her. This lady has been compared to a golden fleece in the extract as her golden locks of hair hang on both sides of her face.
Bring out the significance of ‘golden fleece’, ‘Colchos strand’ and ‘Jason’.
Here Portia’s golden soft hair is compared to the golden fleece of ram mentioned in Greek mythology. Jason was a Greek hero who led a party to Colchos in Asia, near the Black Sea to get the fleece. It was a difficult journey but he succeeded with the help of Medea, who was in love with him.
What does Bassanio request his friend to do? How will the friend benefit from his action?
Bassanio requests his friend Antonio to help him financially, so that he can go to Belmont and marry the worthy lady. From this action he assures his friend Antonio that he will return the first and the second loan after becoming rich with his wife’s money.
How does his friend respond to this request?
Antonio says that all his money is invested in his ships which are still at sea. They should see what his credit can do in Venice. He will stretch his resources to the maximum so that Bassanio has enough money to go to Belmont. The money can be mobilized either on his credit or personal surety.
How is this request of Bassanio going to affect Antonio’s future?
Antonio takes credit on a personal surety to arrange money for his friend. He comes under the clutches of Shylock, the usurer who hates Christians and wants to take revenge for all the insults they have showered upon him because he is a Jew. He approaches the court of law for justice and even demands a pound of flesh from Antonio as recompense. Thus, Antonio has to undergo a lot of mental strain and imprisonment due to this request.