SCENE 1- The first scene takes place on a street in Venice
Antonio, a merchant, expresses unhappiness. His friends Salerio and Salanio find out what is wrong and ask if he is worried about his ships, or in love. It appears that he has no basis for his unhappiness and Salerio suggests that he could choose to be happier. They then see Bassanio, Lorenzo, and Gratiano coming up the street. Salerio and Salanio leave Antonio to his other friends. Gratiano advises Antonio to cheer up. Bassanio, who has known Antonio for some time and has borrowed money from them in the past, tells the group of a rich lady he hopes to marry. He suggests that if he could marry Portia all his money problems would be over. Antonio is willing to help his friend with traveling money but he is short on cash and will need to borrow money.
SCENE 2- This scene takes place in Belmont in room in Portia's house
Portia complains of weariness and her companion, Nerissa, advises her to appreciate what she has. They discuss Portia's fathers will, which outlines the terms for Portia's marriage options. Her suitors must choose the correct casket, a jewelry box, from three choices. They can choose from gold, silver, or lead, and the correct box contains a picture of Portia. Portia makes fun of her current suitors. Nerissa suggest that if the drunk German chooses the correct box Portia should refuse him anyway. Nerissa mentions Bassanio and Portia shows interest in him coming to Belmont. Nerissa reveals that the other suitors have decided to leave because of the provision in the will that forces a rejected suitor to never marry. A messenger comes in to tell them of five more suitors that have arrived. Portia expresses disinterest in marring a Prince of Morocco who has a dark complexion.
SCENE 3 Scene three takes place in a public place in Venice.
Bassanio and Shylock, the Jew, are discussing the terms of a loan for three thousand ducats. Despite reservations due to Antonio's ships being out at sea, Shylock agrees to a three month loan with Antonio as the guarantor. Shylock wants to speak with Antonio, but refuses to eat lunch with them. As a Jew, Shylock can do business with Christians but cannot socialize with them.
Antonio arrives and while Bassanio goes to speak with him, Shylock talks about how he dislikes Antonio because he is a Christian and lends out money for free. Shylock questions Antonio's desire to borrow money and uses an analogy in scripture to justify his usury practices. They go back and forth for some time trading insults. Shylock suggests easy terms in a show of supposed friendship. Shylock offers to lend the money interest free but if Antonio is not able to pay, Shylock will take a pound of his flesh. Bassanio does not like these terms but Antonio agrees saying that his ships will easily arrive in time to pay the loan. Shylock agrees to get the three thousand ducats and meet Antonio at the notary.