Which Is the Merchant Here? And Which the Jew?
The motto for this book has been taken from the deceptively simple question that Portia poses in The Merchant of Venice upon entering the courtroom in the guise of a young doctor of law. The various plots and subplots of Belmont’s wooing and Venice’s Rialto have come to a head. Antonio, the merchant of the play’s title, has defaulted on a loan to Shylock the Jew. The penalty made half in jest is one pound of Antonio’s flesh, and Shylock now intends to take it closest to Antonio’s heart. Antonio made the loan gratuitously on behalf of his kinsman Bassanio, a Venetian youth seeking the heiress Portia in marriage. Bassanio’s venture has succeeded, but Antonio’s merchant ventures have been wrecked at sea. When Shylock discovers that his own daughter Jessica has run off with a Venetian youth Lorenzo, a friend of Bassanio, the Jew’s antipathy for Antonio deepens to a thirst for vengeance.