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The Merchant of Venice | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Act 4, Scene 2

Professor Regina Buccola of Roosevelt University provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Act 4, Scene 2 of William Shakespeare's play The Merchant of Venice.

The Merchant of Venice | Act 4, Scene 2 | Summary



Portia instructs Nerissa to go to Shylock's home and have him sign the deed that gives his property to Jessica and Lorenzo. Before she leaves, Gratiano arrives to deliver Bassanio's ring and invite her to dinner. She turns down the dinner invitation but accepts the ring and asks Gratiano to show Nerissa the way to Shylock's house. Nerissa tells Portia she will try to get her own ring from Gratiano. Portia believes she will get the ring easily and assures Nerissa they will have the last word on their husbands.


Portia plans to return to Belmont with Nerissa immediately after Shylock has signed the deeds associated with his trial, which provides a practical reason for her to reject Bassanio's invitation to dinner. To preserve their ruse, the women need to return to Belmont before their husbands. However, Gratiano's delivery of the ring provides an additional reason for Portia to avoid Bassanio. She now knows his loyalty to Antonio has persuaded him to part with the ring she warned him never to lose or give away. The doubts this exchange raises about her marriage prompt Nerissa to subject Gratiano to a similar test of his affection for her. Portia believes Gratiano will also give up his ring, reflecting a cynical state of mind in response to Bassanio's blunder.

This brief scene offers a bit of comic relief after the high drama of the previous scene. The two women will have tricked their husbands in two ways: first, by convincing their own husbands they are men and complete strangers and second, by persuading them to give up the rings. When they meet again in Belmont, this will be revealed to have been a joke, albeit a pointed one. But it will also give the women ammunition to use against their husbands throughout their marriages.

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