Merchant of Venice

Merchant of Venice Summary and Analysis of Act 5

Act V, Scene One

Lorenzo and Jessica, still at Belmont, sit outside and enjoy the night. They compare the night to the stories of Troilus and Cressida, Pyramus and Thisbe, and Dido and Aeneus, and then extend the analogy to their own love affair. They are interrupted by Stefano, who tells them that Portia is returning home with Nerissa. Lancelot then arrives and informs Lorenzo that Bassanio will also be back by morning. Both Lorenzo and Jessica return to the house and listen to music.

Portia and Nerissa, dressed as themselves again, return home and enter the building. Lorenzo recognizes Portia's voice and comes to greet her. She orders the servants to pretend as if she had never left, and asks Lorenzo and Jessica to do the same. Soon thereafter Bassanio, Graziano and Antonio arrive.

Nerissa demands that Graziano show her the ring he gave away to Portia's "clerk" in Venice. They start to argue over it, with Graziano defending his action as a form of kindness for Antonio. Portia overhears them and pretends to "discover" what happened. She then demands that Bassanio show her his ring, which he of course cannot do. Portia and Nerissa then berate their husbands for giving away the rings, and even tell them that they would prefer to sleep with the doctor and his clerk rather than with their unfaithful husbands.

Antonio offers his assurance that neither Bassanio nor Graziano will ever give away their wives' gifts again. Portia thanks him and asks him to give Bassanio another ring to keep. Bassanio looks at the ring and recognizes it as being the same ring he gave away. Portia then tells him that the doctor came back to Belmont and slept with her. Bassanio is amazed and does not know how to respond.

Portia finally clears up the confusion by informing Bassanio that she and Nerissa were the doctor and the clerk. She further has good news for Antonio, namely a letter that indicates that three of his ships arrived in port safely. Nerissa then hands Lorenzo the deed from Shylock in which he inherits everything after Shylock dies. The play ends with Graziano promising to forever keep Nerissa's ring safe.


One of the most ridiculous moments in this act involves Lorenzo and Jessica, who compare their love with the three disastrous love stories. They invoke Troilus and Cressida, Pyramus and Thisbe, and Dido and Aeneus as their models. This is ironic in the highest degree because all the invoked lovers are failures. For example, Pyramus and Thisbe commit suicide, and Dido kills herself when Aeneus leaves her. This hearkens back to the ease with which Jessica handed over the casket in the previous acts. Their love never underwent any form of test, either with the casket, or with the rings, which Jessica apparently trades for a monkey (3.1). Thus they in a sense condemn their love to failure like those of the failed lovers.

Much of this scene involves Portia and Nerissa teaching their husbands the value of the marriage. The gifts of the rings serve to represent the sanctity and holy promise of the marriage. Thus, for Bassanio and Graziano to give away the rings is a violation of their marriage contract, a sign that they love Antonio more than their wives. Since this cannot be allowed, Portia uses her ring trick to force Bassanio to give up Antonio. The joke that Portia creates is when she says, "I'll have that doctor for my bedfellow" (5.1.232), thus implying that Bassanio needs to realize the ring is given to him alone, and that giving it away violates the relationship implicit in their marriage contract.

The twinning and oppositeness of Antonio and Shylock was remarked on earlier in the analysis. This same twinning and oppositeness exists between Belmont and Venice. Belmont represents music and leisure, Venice signifies money and laws. However, as Belmont is of course built upon the money from Venice, it depends on gold and inheritance. This is seen most clearly when the deed from Shylock is handed to Lorenzo, which is similar to the way Portia derives her wealth in Belmont from a dead father's will. However, the luxury of Belmont is not necessarily considered positive. Venice produces merchants such as Antonio, whereas Belmont produces Lorenzo, a lazy beggar.

The three pairs of lovers represent the comic ending. But what should be a happy ending is violated and broken by Antonio and Shylock. Both men remain outsiders at the end of the play, alone and removed from the happy luxury of Belmont. Both outsiders also have been immasculated by the end. Shylock via the loss of his money and his daughter, Antonio by losing Bassanio to Portia. The lowest level of Antonio's defeat is when Portia hands him his money and ships at the end, essentially telling him to return to Venice and forget about Bassanio.