However, Shylock adamantly refuses any compensations and insists on the pound of flesh.
As the court grants Shylock his bond and Antonio prepares for Shylock's knife, Portia deftly appropriates Shylock's argument for "specific performance".
The doctor is Portia in disguise, and the law clerk who accompanies her is Nerissa, also disguised as a man.
As Balthazar, Portia repeatedly asks Shylock to show mercy in a famous speech, advising him that mercy "is twice blest: It blesseth him that gives and him that takes" (Act IV, Sc 1, Line 185).
Antonio agrees, but since he is cash-poor – his ships and merchandise are busy at sea to Tripolis, the Indies, Mexico and England – he promises to cover a bond if Bassanio can find a lender, so Bassanio turns to the Jewish moneylender Shylock and names Antonio as the loan's guarantor.
Antonio has already antagonized Shylock through his outspoken antisemitism and because Antonio's habit of lending money without interest forces Shylock to charge lower rates.
Meanwhile, in Belmont, Portia is awash with suitors.
Her father left a will stipulating that each of her suitors must choose correctly from one of three caskets, made of gold, silver and lead respectively. The first suitor, the Prince of Morocco, chooses the gold casket, interpreting its slogan, "Who chooseth me shall gain what many men desire", as referring to Portia.
Shylock refuses Bassanio's offer of 6,000 ducats, twice the amount of the loan. The Duke, wishing to save Antonio but unable to nullify a contract, refers the case to a visitor.
He identifies himself as Balthazar, a young male "doctor of the law", bearing a letter of recommendation to the Duke from the learned lawyer Bellario.