The Merchant of Venice
|ACT I SCENE II||Belmont. A room in PORTIA’S house.|
|[Enter PORTIA and NERISSA]|
|PORTIA||By my troth, Nerissa, my little body is aweary of|
|this great world.|
|NERISSA||You would be, sweet madam, if your miseries were in|
|the same abundance as your good fortunes are: and|
|yet, for aught I see, they are as sick that surfeit|
|with too much as they that starve with nothing. It|
|is no mean happiness therefore, to be seated in the|
|mean: superfluity comes sooner by white hairs, but|
|competency lives longer.||10|
|PORTIA||Good sentences and well pronounced.|
|NERISSA||They would be better, if well followed.|
|PORTIA||If to do were as easy as to know what were good to|
|do, chapels had been churches and poor men’s|
|cottages princes’ palaces. It is a good divine that|
|follows his own instructions: I can easier teach|
|twenty what were good to be done, than be one of the|
|twenty to follow mine own teaching. The brain may|
|devise laws for the blood, but a hot temper leaps|
|o’er a cold decree: such a hare is madness the||20|
|youth, to skip o’er the meshes of good counsel the|
|cripple. But this reasoning is not in the fashion to|
|choose me a husband. O me, the word ‘choose!’ I may|
|neither choose whom I would nor refuse whom I|
|dislike; so is the will of a living daughter curbed|
|by the will of a dead father. Is it not hard,|
|Nerissa, that I cannot choose one nor refuse none?|
|NERISSA||Your father was ever virtuous; and holy men at their||30|
|death have good inspirations: therefore the lottery,|
|that he hath devised in these three chests of gold,|
|silver and lead, whereof who chooses his meaning|
|chooses you, will, no doubt, never be chosen by any|
|rightly but one who shall rightly love. But what|
|warmth is there in your affection towards any of|
|these princely suitors that are already come?|
|PORTIA||I pray thee, over-name them; and as thou namest|
|them, I will describe them; and, according to my||40|
|description, level at my affection.|
|NERISSA||First, there is the Neapolitan prince.|
|PORTIA||Ay, that’s a colt indeed, for he doth nothing but|
|talk of his horse; and he makes it a great|
|appropriation to his own good parts, that he can|
|shoe him himself. I am much afeard my lady his|
|mother played false with a smith.|
|NERISSA||Then there is the County Palatine.|
|PORTIA||He doth nothing but frown, as who should say ‘If you||50|
|will not have me, choose:’ he hears merry tales and|
|smiles not: I fear he will prove the weeping|
|philosopher when he grows old, being so full of|
|unmannerly sadness in his youth. I had rather be|
|married to a death’s-head with a bone in his mouth|
|than to either of these. God defend me from these|
|NERISSA||How say you by the French lord, Monsieur Le Bon?|
|PORTIA||God made him, and therefore let him pass for a man.|
|In truth, I know it is a sin to be a mocker: but,||60|
|he! why, he hath a horse better than the|
|Neapolitan’s, a better bad habit of frowning than|
|the Count Palatine; he is every man in no man; if a|
|throstle sing, he falls straight a capering: he will|
|fence with his own shadow: if I should marry him, I|
|should marry twenty husbands. If he would despise me|
|I would forgive him, for if he love me to madness, I|
|shall never requite him.||70|
|NERISSA||What say you, then, to Falconbridge, the young baron|
|PORTIA||You know I say nothing to him, for he understands|
|not me, nor I him: he hath neither Latin, French,|
|nor Italian, and you will come into the court and|
|swear that I have a poor pennyworth in the English.|
|He is a proper man’s picture, but, alas, who can|
|converse with a dumb-show? How oddly he is suited!|
|I think he bought his doublet in Italy, his round|
|hose in France, his bonnet in Germany and his||80|
|behavior every where.|
|NERISSA||What think you of the Scottish lord, his neighbour?|
|PORTIA||That he hath a neighbourly charity in him, for he|
|borrowed a box of the ear of the Englishman and|
|swore he would pay him again when he was able: I|
|think the Frenchman became his surety and sealed|
|under for another.|
|NERISSA||How like you the young German, the Duke of Saxony’s nephew?||90|
|PORTIA||Very vilely in the morning, when he is sober, and|
|most vilely in the afternoon, when he is drunk: when|
|he is best, he is a little worse than a man, and|
|when he is worst, he is little better than a beast:|
|and the worst fall that ever fell, I hope I shall|
|make shift to go without him.|
|NERISSA||If he should offer to choose, and choose the right|
|casket, you should refuse to perform your father’s|
|will, if you should refuse to accept him.||100|
|PORTIA||Therefore, for fear of the worst, I pray thee, set a|
|deep glass of rhenish wine on the contrary casket,|
|for if the devil be within and that temptation|
|without, I know he will choose it. I will do any|
|thing, Nerissa, ere I’ll be married to a sponge.|
|NERISSA||You need not fear, lady, the having any of these|
|lords: they have acquainted me with their||110|
|determinations; which is, indeed, to return to their|
|home and to trouble you with no more suit, unless|
|you may be won by some other sort than your father’s|
|imposition depending on the caskets.|
|PORTIA||If I live to be as old as Sibylla, I will die as|
|chaste as Diana, unless I be obtained by the manner|
|of my father’s will. I am glad this parcel of wooers|
|are so reasonable, for there is not one among them|
|but I dote on his very absence, and I pray God grant||120|
|them a fair departure.|
|NERISSA||Do you not remember, lady, in your father’s time, a|
|Venetian, a scholar and a soldier, that came hither|
|in company of the Marquis of Montferrat?|
|PORTIA||Yes, yes, it was Bassanio; as I think, he was so called.|
|NERISSA||True, madam: he, of all the men that ever my foolish|
|eyes looked upon, was the best deserving a fair lady.||130|
|PORTIA||I remember him well, and I remember him worthy of|
|[Enter a Serving-man]|
|How now! what news?|
|Servant||The four strangers seek for you, madam, to take|
|their leave: and there is a forerunner come from a|
|fifth, the Prince of Morocco, who brings word the|
|prince his master will be here to-night.||139|
|PORTIA||If I could bid the fifth welcome with so good a|
|heart as I can bid the other four farewell, I should|
|be glad of his approach: if he have the condition|
|of a saint and the complexion of a devil, I had|
|rather he should shrive me than wive me. Come,|
|Nerissa. Sirrah, go before.|
|Whiles we shut the gates|
|upon one wooer, another knocks at the door.|
Next: The Merchant of Venice, Act 1, Scene 3
Explanatory Notes for Act 1, Scene 2
From The Merchant of Venice. Ed. Felix E. Schelling. New York: American Book Co.
Belmont. Most of the directions as to place and scene in the plays of Shakespeare have been added by modern editors. In the old editions the reader was left to infer both from the words of the text. Belmont is supposed to have been situated near the Brenta, a fair stream of the continent, on the banks of which were many of the palaces of the magnificoes of Venice. The highway from Venice to Padua must have run near.
In this scene we learn the conditions under which Portia can alone be won, and find her heart-whole as to any of her suitors. But Portia is not wholly fancy-free, for on Nerissa’s mention of “a Venetian, a scholar and a soldier, that came hither in company of the Marquis of Montferrat,” and “in your father’s time,” Portia remembers his name, Bassanio, and that he “was worthy of thy praise.” This touch shows Bassanio no mere adventurer, but a gentleman accredited by his station in a nobleman’s train and by the acceptance of Portia’s own father; and prepares us for what might otherwise seem that lady’s sudden and unaccountable preference for Bassanio.
7, 8. no mean happiness … in the mean. It is no happiness to be despised, therefore, to be stationed in life between the extremes of poverty and overabundant wealth. Shakespeare shared with his age a fondness for playing on words. See below, lines 26, 27, the will [wish, desire] of a living daughter curbed by the will [testament] of a dead father.
28. cannot choose one nor refuse none. In modern English, “Can neither choose one nor refuse any.” Nor is often used after not. See Macbeth, ii. 3. 69: “Tongue nor heart cannot conceive nor name thee.” For the double negative, see King John, v. 7. 112.
35. No doubt you will never be chosen, etc. Compare Portia’s words to Bassanio, below (iii. 2. 41): “If you do love me, you will find me out.” This is the reading of the first quarto of The Merchant of Venice; that of the folio is inferior.
44. a colt, a wild, headstrong youth. As the Neapolitans were notably skilled in horsemanship in Shakespeare’s day, there is a play on the word colt.
50. as who should say. Compare i. I. 93, above, and the note thereon.
51. ‘If you will not have me, choose‘ [whom you will, and regret your choice]. The sense is plainly: “Whom could you think of choosing beside such a paragon as I?”
53. the weeping philosopher, Heraclitus of Ephesus, who flourished about 500 B.C.
58. How say you by the French lord. What say you with reference to, etc. See below, ii. 9. 26: “By the fool multitude”; and compare the phrase: “Do as you would be done by” [i.e. with reference to].
66. a capering. A is often equal to “on” before verbal nouns. Compare King Lear, v. 3. 274: “The slave that was a hanging there.”
73. Portia playfully twists Nerissa’s word, say, into a different sense.
76. a poor pennyworth in the English, little knowledge of the English tongue.
80. doublet … round hose. The doublet was the close-fitting jacket worn by men in Shakespeare’s day. The familiar figure, Punch, still wears a doublet. Round hose were trousers made very large and sometimes stuffed, or “bombasted,” as it was called, to make them stand out.
81. bonnet, commonly used for a man’s hat. See Richard II, i. 4. 31: “Off goes his bonnet to an oyster-wench.”
88. the Frenchman became his surety. In allusion to the assistance frequently offered by France to Scotland in her quarrels with England, before the union of the two countries under Elizabeth’s successor, King James.
89. sealed under for another [box on the ear]. The principal, or person entering into a bond, was said to “seal to” the bond; his surety, i.e. the man who agreed to pay the debt if the principal did not, was said to ” seal under.”
100. you should refuse to perform, in modern usage, “You would refuse.” Should is the past tense of shall, and has undergone the same modifications of meaning. Should is not now used with the second person to denote mere futurity, because it suggests a duty if not a compulsion. But we retain this use of should in the conditional clause, “If you should refuse,” because there can be no question of compulsion in that case. Shakespeare did not make this distinction.
109. the having. The article often precedes a verbal noun when the latter is followed by an object, as here. Compare Macbeth, i. 4, 7: “Nothing in his life Became him like the leaving it.”
113. by some other sort, by some other method or manner.
114. your father’s imposition, the condition imposed by your father.
116. Sibylla, used erroneously by Shakespeare as a proper name. There were several prophetic women known as sibyls in ancient times. Of them the Cumaean sibyl, consulted by Aeneas, was the most famous. It was this sibyl that obtained from Apollo a promise that her years should be as many as the grains of sand she was holding in her hand.
134. four strangers, six were enumerated. The plays of Shakespeare’s time were subject to constant revision, and sometimes little inadvertences, such as this, remain. There may have been but four suitors named in an earlier version of this play.
135. forerunner, footman.
140, 141. so … as. As is a contraction of all-so (alse, als, as). We still say: “As I expected so it happened.” The Elizabethans frequently used the reverse order. See Romeo and Juliet, i. 1. 140: “All so soon as.”
146, 147. It is a common device of plays of this time to end a scene with a rhyming couplet, as here. This has been supposed by some to offer a cue to the opening of a new scene, but as such rhyming tags occur elsewhere this is not certain.
How to cite the explanatory notes:
Shakespeare, William. The Merchant of Venice. Ed. Felix E. Schelling. New York: American Book Co., 1903.