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The Merchant of Venice | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Act 3, Scene 4

Professor Regina Buccola of Roosevelt University provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Act 3, Scene 4 of William Shakespeare's play The Merchant of Venice.

The Merchant of Venice | Act 3, Scene 4 | Summary



With Bassanio and Gratiano on their way to Venice, Portia makes her own preparations to depart Belmont. Lorenzo thanks her for offering such generous assistance to Antonio and praises her goodness, but Portia says she is only doing what is right. She asks Lorenzo and Jessica to watch over her estate while she and Nerissa go to a monastery while their husbands are away. She then sends her servant Balthazar to her cousin, a Doctor Bellario in Padua. She tells him to return quickly with the papers and clothing he provides.

After Balthazar leaves, Portia tells Nerissa of her plan: The two women will disguise themselves as men and follow their husbands to Venice. But she will not reveal more about her reasons until they are on the way.


Portia shows modesty in response to Lorenzo's praise of her generosity toward Antonio. She expresses her sympathy for Antonio's predicament and her happiness at being able to assist, but she stops short in the middle of her speech, saying, "This comes too near the praising of myself." In this respect she reflects the modesty expected of a woman in her station.

In Act 4, Scene 1 her plan to assist in Antonio's defense will become clear, which makes her modesty here a practical matter as well. She is compelled to conceal her intended involvement in Antonio's defense. Showmanship also becomes a key component in this scene. For performance purposes her reluctance to reveal the full plan to Nerissa here sets up the surprise of the big reveal when she appears in court. The reference to Doctor Bellario—whose name will come up in the court scene—sets up the audience to recognize the young legal scholar as Portia when she appears before the duke in the next scene. For now Portia's vague request for "clothing" sets up suspense for the tense scenes to come.

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