| Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare|
|by Edith Nesbit|
|Twenty stories from Shakespeare retold in lively prose. The author makes the complex language of Shakespeare's greatest plays accessible to young children by relating the stories that form the core of the plays. Her graceful, vivid retellings are the perfect introduction to Shakespeare's works. Ages 9-12 |
THE MERCHANT OF VENICE
NTONIO was a rich and prosperous merchant of Venice. His ships
were on nearly every sea, and he traded with Portugal, with Mexico,
with England, and with India. Although proud of his riches, he
was very generous with them, and delighted to use them in relieving
the wants of his friends, among whom his relation, Bassanio, held
the first place.
Now Bassanio, like many another gay and gallant gentleman, was
reckless and extravagant, and finding that he had not only come
to the end of his fortune, but was also unable to pay his creditors,
he went to Antonio for further help.
"To you, Antonio," he said, "I owe the most in money and in love:
and I have thought of a plan to pay everything I owe if you will
but help me."
"Say what I can do, and it shall be done," answered his friend.
 Then said Bassanio, "In Belmont is a lady richly left, and from
all quarters of the globe renowned suitors come to woo her, not
only because she is rich, but because she is beautiful and good
as well. She looked on me with such favor when last we met, that
I feel sure that I should win her away from all rivals for her
love had I but the means to go to Belmont, where she lives."
"All my fortunes," said Antonio, "are at sea, and so I have no
ready money; but luckily my credit is good in Venice, and I will
borrow for you what you need."
There was living in Venice at this time a rich money-lender, named
Shylock. Antonio despised and disliked this man very much, and
treated him with the greatest harshness and scorn. He would thrust
him, like a cur, over his threshold, and would even spit on him.
Shylock submitted to all these indignities with a patient shrug;
but deep in his heart he cherished a desire for revenge on the
rich, smug merchant. For Antonio both hurt his pride and injured
his business. "But for him," thought Shylock, "I should be richer
by half a million
 ducats. On the market place, and wherever he
can, he denounces the rate of interest I charge, and—worse than
that—he lends out money freely."
So when Bassanio came to him to ask for a loan of three thousand
ducats to Antonio for three months, Shylock hid his hatred, and
turning to Antonio, said—"Harshly as you have treated me, I would
be friends with you and have your love. So I will lend you the
money and charge you no interest. But, just for fun, you shall
sign a bond in which it shall be agreed that if you do not repay
me in three months' time, then I shall have the right to a pound
of your flesh, to be cut from what part of your body I choose."
"No," cried Bassanio to his friend, "you shall run no such risk
"Why, fear not," said Antonio, "my ships will be home a month before
the time. I will sign the bond."
Thus Bassanio was furnished with the means to go to Belmont, there
to woo the lovely Portia. The very night he started, the
money-lender's pretty daughter, Jessica, ran away from her father's
 with her lover, and she took with her from her father's
hoards some bags of ducats and precious stones. Shylock's grief
and anger were terrible to see. His love for her changed to hate.
"I would she were dead at my feet and the jewels in her ear," he
cried. His only comfort now was in hearing of the serious losses
which had befallen Antonio, some of whose ships were wrecked.
"Let him look to his bond," said Shylock, "let him look to his bond."
Meanwhile Bassanio had reached Belmont, and had visited the fair
Portia. He found, as he had told Antonio, that the rumor of her
wealth and beauty had drawn to her suitors from far and near.
But to all of them Portia had but one reply. She would only accept
that suitor who would pledge himself to abide by the terms of her
father's will. These were conditions that frightened away many
an ardent wooer. For he who would win Portia's heart and hand,
had to guess which of three caskets held her portrait. If he
guessed aright, then Portia would be his bride; if wrong, then he
was bound by oath never to reveal which casket he chose, never to
marry, and to go away at once.
 The caskets were of gold, silver, and lead. The gold one bore this
inscription:—"Who chooseth me shall gain what many men desire";
the silver one had this:—"Who chooseth me shall get as much as
he deserves"; while on the lead one were these words:—"Who chooseth
me must give and hazard all he hath."
The Prince of Morocco, as
brave as he was black, was among the first to submit to this test.
He chose the gold casket, for he said neither base lead nor silver
could contain her picture. So he chose the gold casket, and found
inside the likeness of what many men desire—death.
THE PRINCE OF MOROCCO.
CHOOSING THE CASKET
After him came the haughty Prince of Arragon, and saying, "Let me
have what I deserve—surely I
 deserve the lady," he chose the
silver one, and found inside a fool's head. "Did I deserve no
more than a fool's head?" he cried.
Then at last came Bassanio, and Portia would have delayed him from
making his choice from very fear of his choosing wrong. For she
loved him dearly, even as he loved her. "But," said Bassanio,
"let me choose at once, for, as I am, I live upon the rack."
ANTONIO SIGNS THE BOND.
Then Portia bade her servants to bring music and play while her
gallant lover made his choice. And Bassanio took the oath and
walked up to the caskets—the musicians playing softly the while.
"Mere outward show," he said, "is to be despised. The world is
still deceived with ornament, and so no
 gaudy gold or shining
silver for me. I choose the lead casket; joy be the consequence!"
And opening it, he found fair Portia's portrait inside, and he
turned to her and asked if it were true that she was his.
"Yes," said Portia, "I am yours, and this house is yours, and with
them I give you this ring, from which you must never part."
And Bassanio, saying that he could hardly speak for joy, found
words to swear that he would never part with the ring while he
Then suddenly all his happiness was dashed with sorrow, for messengers
came from Venice to tell him that Antonio was ruined, and that
Shylock demanded from the Duke the fulfilment of the bond, under
which he was entitled to a pound of the merchant's flesh. Portia
was as grieved as Bassanio to hear of the danger which threatened
"First," she said, "take me to church and make me your wife, and
then go to Venice at once to help your friend. You shall take
with you money enough to pay his debt twenty times over."
But when her newly-made husband had gone,
Por-  tia went after him,
and arrived in Venice disguised as a lawyer, and with an introduction
from a celebrated lawyer Bellario, whom the Duke of Venice had
called in to decide the legal questions raised by Shylock's claim
to a pound of Antonio's flesh. When the Court met, Bassanio
offered Shylock twice the money borrowed, if he would withdraw
his claim. But the money-lender's only answer was—
"If every ducat in six thousand ducats,
Were in six parts, and every part a ducat,
I would not draw them,—I would have my bond."
It was then that Portia arrived in her disguise, and not even her
own husband knew her. The Duke gave her welcome on account of
the great Bellario's introduction, and left the settlement of the
case to her. Then in noble words she bade Shylock have mercy.
But he was deaf to her entreaties. "I will have the pound of
flesh," was his reply.
"What have you to say?" asked Portia of the merchant.
"But little," he answered; "I am armed and well prepared."
 "The Court awards you a pound of Antonio's flesh," said Portia to
"Most righteous judge!" cried Shylock. "A sentence: come,
JESSICA LEAVING HOME.
"Tarry a little. This bond gives you no right to Antonio's blood,
only to his flesh. If, then, you spill a drop of his blood, all
your property will be forfeited to the State. Such is the Law."
And Shylock, in his fear, said, "Then I will take Bassanio's offer."
"No," said Portia sternly, "you shall have
noth-  ing but your bond.
Take your pound of flesh, but remember, that if you take more or
less, even by the weight of a hair, you will lose your property
and your life."
Shylock now grew very much frightened. "Give me my three thousand
ducats that I lent him, and let him go."
BASSANIO PARTS WITH THE RING.
Bassanio would have paid it to him, but said Portia, "No! He shall
have nothing but his bond."
"You, a foreigner," she added, "have sought to take the life of a
Venetian citizen, and thus by the Venetian law, your life and
goods are forfeited. Down, therefore, and beg mercy of the
Thus were the tables turned, and no mercy would have been shown to
Shylock had it not been for
 Antonio. As it was, the money-lender
forfeited half his fortune to the State, and he had to settle the
other half on his daughter's husband, and with this he had to be
Bassanio, in his gratitude to the clever lawyer, was induced to
part with the ring his wife had given him, and with which he had
promised never to part, and when on his return to Belmont he
confessed as much to Portia, she seemed very angry, and vowed she
would not be friends with him until she had her ring again. But
at last she told him that it was she who, in the disguise of the
lawyer, had saved his friend's life, and got the ring from him.
So Bassanio was forgiven, and made happier than ever, to know how
rich a prize he had drawn in the lottery of the caskets.
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