Scenes 4.1 and 4.2
Scene 4.1 - The Venetian court
Antonio, Bassanio, and their friends enter a courtroom, as does the Duke, who will act as judge, and his attendants. The Duke regrets that Antonio will have to face such a cruel adversary, but Antonio announces that he is ready to suffer justice. Shylock enters, and the Duke condemns him for not only failing to remit Antonio's debt in spite of his terrible losses, but furthermore insisting on taking the pound of flesh that he is, technically, owed. The Duke requests a "gentle" (punning on "gentile") answer. Shylock refuses to justify himself for taking a pound of flesh instead of the money he could have - he notes only that he bears a certain hate towards Antonio, and that to deny his request would be to flout the rule of law in Venice. The Duke demands a better reason, but Shylock refuses. Antonio remarks that to question Shylock about his cruelty would be like asking a wolf why he kills lambs - it is the nature of Jews, Antonio claims, to be cruel. Bassanio offers him twice the money that Antonio owes, but Shylock refuses. He argues that when Christians treat their slaves cruelly their justification is "the slaves are ours," and he is insisting on Antonio's flesh for the same reason - it is his. The Duke announces that they will not proceed until Bellario, the same scholar who Portia sent her request to earlier, arrives from Padua. A messenger arrives with letters from him.
Bassanio tries to cheer up Antonio while they wait, but Antonio insists, again, that there's no hope for him. Nerissa enters, dressed as a man, pretending to be Bellario's clerk. She offers a letter from him. Shylock whets his knife on his shoe. Graziano curses him, asking if no prayers can convince him, making him believe that the souls of animals sometimes live inside men's body. Shylock, insists, again, on the law. The Duke reads the letter from Bellario: it says that he cannot come because he is sick, but has sent a brilliant young lawyer, Balthasar, in his place. Portia enters, dressed as a man, in legal robes, and announces that she is Balthasar. The Duke welcomes her. Portia (as Balthasar) asks about the status of the case and insists that the Jew must be merciful. Asked why by Shylock, she responds with a speech that argues that mercy cannot be forced, but is a "gentle rain," one which befits kings, and is a quality of God himself, by which we (presumably, Christians) gain salvation.
Shylock insists on his contract. Bassanio again offers twice as much money as is owed, and begs the court to make an exception. Portia responds that the rule of law must hold in all cases, for which Shylock praises her, and she asks to see the contract. Portia offers three times as much money, but Shylock demands the flesh he has been promised. Portia instructs Antonio to bare his chest for the knife. Antonio offers his last words: he forgives Bassanio, and wishes him happiness with his new wife. Bassanio responds that he would sacrifice even his wife to save Antonio. Portia (as Balthasar) remarks to the audience that she's not particularly pleased with his offer. Graziano too states that he would rather his wife die than lose Antonio, which Nerissa (as Balthasar's clerk) doesn't much like. Shylock wishes to the audience that this is how Christian husbands act - he wishes his daughter had married a Jew. Portia declares that Shylock is now free to cut a pound of flesh from Antonio.
But before he does so, she notes that his contract entitles him to only a pound of flesh - he may have it, but if he sheds any blood he will be punished by Venice, all his wealth confiscated. Taunted by Graziano for being outwitted, Shylock agrees to accept Bassanio's earlier offer, but Portia insists that he will have what he was promised - and further that he can have exactly one pound of flesh: any bit more or less, and he will be punished for it. Shylock gives up, and begins to leave, but Portia tells him to wait: there is a law in Venice against attempting murder by direct or indirect means, and he is guilty of that, and must beg mercy of the Duke, or else have all his goods confiscated. Graziano wants him to be hanged. The Duke says he will not take Shylock's life, but orders him to give half his wealth to Antonio, half to the state of Venice. Shylock argues that this is a punishment worse than death. Antonio suggests that Shylock can keep the half of his wealth promised to him, on the conditions that, he gives that money and all his other goods to Lorenzo and Jessica when he dies, and that he convert to Christianity. Shylock accepts the offer and departs.
The Duke, commending the skillful lawyer Balthasar, also leaves. Bassanio and Antonio thank Balthasar for his efforts, offering him the three thousand ducats owed for payment. Portia (as Balthasar) refuses the payment, but Bassanio insists on some gift. So Portia asks for Antonio's gloves, and for Bassanio's ring. Bassanio offers to buy an even better ring in its place, but Balthasar insists on this one, despite Bassanio's plea that it was a gift from his wife. But Bassanio refuses the request. Portia and Nerissa, as Balthasar and his clerk, depart. Antonio tells Bassanio that he ought to, in gratitude, give Balthasar the ring, and Bassanio agrees, and sends Graziano with the ring to give to Balthasar. Antonio and Bassanio leave together, with plans to go to Belmont.
Scene 4.2 - Street in Venice
Portia has written up the contract that Shylock must sign to confirm his promise in court, and gives it to Nerissa to deliver. Graziano enters with Bassanio's ring, which he gives to Portia. She asks Graziano to take Nerissa (disguised as Balthasar's clerk) to Shylock's house. Nerissa confides to Portia that she will try to make Graziano give up his ring. Graziano and Nerissa leave together, bound for Shylock's house.
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Points to Ponder
Did You Know
Scenes 1.2 and 1.3
Scenes 2.1, 2.2, and 2.3
Scenes 2.4, 2.5, and 2.6
Scenes 2.7, 2.8, and 2.9
Scenes 3.1 and 3.2
Scenes 3.3, 3.4, and 3.5
Scenes 4.1 and 4.2