1. Antonio and his friends are in a street in Venice when the play starts. Antonio says that he too, in fact, does not know why he is sad. He adds that it troubles him as much as it troubles his friends, Salerio and Solanio. But he is yet to know how he found and caught this sadness. He says that his sadness has made him an idiot so that he has difficulty to know himself.
whereof it is born means from what did it originate
a want-wit sadness: sadness (makes me) a person lacking in intelligence
that I have much ado to know myself: I have much difficulty to have clear idea about myself
Salarino says that the probable cause of Antonio’s melancholy is that all his venture are at sea. His mind is tossing in the oceans just like his own ships are.
When ships sail by it creates a wake and whatever gets into this wake tilts towards the ship. Salerino compares this with a procession of important men going down the street, with common people courtesying to them. He compares the ships to great men and the smaller vessels to the common man and their tilting as courtesying.
Antonio’s melancholy is important from the theatrical point of view. The happy atmosphere in the beginning of the play is intensified because it is in contrast with Antonio’s nature. We feel sorry for Antonio as he doesn’t enjoy his life but helps others enjoy theirs. So, later when his life is at risk, we are more deeply moved. This melancholy goes well with the character as he is about to lose his dear friend Bassanio to Portia, and he is short of money since he has risked it on ventures. Being a good man, he might be also worried about him not earning his bread with the sweat of his brow.
1. Salanio’s attention would have been on the elements of nature if he had business ventures abroad since ships played a major part in foreign business in those days.
He would be plucking the grass to scatter it in the wind to learn its direction so that he could judge whether his ships were safe or not.
He would be peering in the map of the world to see where the rocks, pier bridges, shallows, sandbars and ports were.
The sight of any object that reminds him of the dangers at sea would make him tremble with fear. The rocks with which the church is built and the sands shifting in an hour glass by reminding him of the rocks and the shallow seas will remind him of the dangers that can happen to his ships.
plucking the grass to know where sits the wind: plucking and scattering the grass on the wind to see in which direction it is blowing.
Peering in maps for ports, and piers, and roads: looking into maps keenly to see where the ships could halt, where the piers to unload things were and where the main harbours were.
In spite of the possible dangers to his ships, Antonio is not worried about his financial security because his income does not depend on the revenue from a single year nor are his business ventures carried by a single ship or set off in a single direction
The opening scene, through the words of Salarino and Salanio, reveals the dangers that could happen to ships at sea. Even the words of Antonio about his caution in sending his ships in different directions prove that maritime business was risky.
Though Antonio is confident about his ventures his friends openly talk about the risks involved. There are shallow seas and storms that make the ships capsize and rocks that break the ships into pieces. References to all this are made in the first scene itself to create and maintain tension through out the play.