Set in the teeming, multi-ethnic marketplace of 16th-century Venice, Shakespeare's sprawling comic masterpiece confronts the best and worst of human qualities—tolerance and bigotry, charity and greed—in a story filled with dramatic intrigue, high farce, and sublime poetry. After last season's wild and wonderful The Taming of the Shrew, Andrei Serban returns to give this provocative, charming, and controversial play his own inventive, contemporary touch.
Bassanio, a Venetian nobleman who has squandered his inheritance, plans to marry Portia, a wealthy heiress. His friend Antonio agrees to provide the necessary capital to fund Bassanio's voyage to Belmont, where Portia lives.
As a Venetian merchant, Antonio's wealth lies in a fleet of ships that are sailing in foreign waters. He therefore seeks a loan from Shylock, a Jewish moneylender, who agrees to lend him the money only if Antonio stakes a pound of his own flesh as guarantee.
Bassanio arrives in Belmont, where he discovers that if he is to win Portia's hand, he must first solve the riddle of the three caskets left to her by her father. He does so successfully, but no sooner has he married Portia than news arrives that Antonio's ships have all been lost, and his life is in Shylock's hands.
Bassanio sets out for Venice, leaving Portia to hatch a plan that will save Antonio's life and test Bassanio's love for her.