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The Merchant of Venice


ACT II SCENE IBelmont. A room in Portia’s house.
[ Flourish of cornets. Enter the PRINCE OF MOROCCO and his train; PORTIA, NERISSA, and others attending ]
MOROCCOMislike me not for my complexion,
The shadow’d livery of the burnish’d sun,
To whom I am a neighbour and near bred.
Bring me the fairest creature northward born,
Where Phoebus’ fire scarce thaws the icicles,
And let us make incision for your love,
To prove whose blood is reddest, his or mine.
I tell thee, lady, this aspect of mine
Hath fear’d the valiant: by my love I swear
The best-regarded virgins of our clime10
Have loved it too: I would not change this hue,
Except to steal your thoughts, my gentle queen.
PORTIAIn terms of choice I am not solely led
By nice direction of a maiden’s eyes;
Besides, the lottery of my destiny
Bars me the right of voluntary choosing:
But if my father had not scanted me
And hedged me by his wit, to yield myself
His wife who wins me by that means I told you,
Yourself, renowned prince, then stood as fair20
As any comer I have look’d on yet
For my affection.
MOROCCOEven for that I thank you:
Therefore, I pray you, lead me to the caskets
To try my fortune. By this scimitar
That slew the Sophy and a Persian prince
That won three fields of Sultan Solyman,
I would outstare the sternest eyes that look,
Outbrave the heart most daring on the earth,
Pluck the young sucking cubs from the she-bear,
Yea, mock the lion when he roars for prey,30
To win thee, lady. But, alas the while!
If Hercules and Lichas play at dice
Which is the better man, the greater throw
May turn by fortune from the weaker hand:
So is Alcides beaten by his page;
And so may I, blind fortune leading me,
Miss that which one unworthier may attain,

And die with grieving.
PORTIAYou must take your chance,
And either not attempt to choose at all
Or swear before you choose, if you choose wrong40
Never to speak to lady afterward
In way of marriage: therefore be advised.
MOROCCONor will not. Come, bring me unto my chance.
PORTIAFirst, forward to the temple: after dinner
Your hazard shall be made.
MOROCCOGood fortune then!
To make me blest or cursed’st among men.
[Cornets, and exeunt]

Next: The Merchant of Venice, Act 2, Scene 2


Explanatory Notes for Act 2, Scene 1
From The Merchant of Venice. Ed. Felix E. Schelling. New York: American Book Co.

The old stage direction reads: “Enter Morochus a tawnie Moore all in white, and three or foure followers accordingly, with Portia, Nerrissa, and their traine. Flo[urish of] Cornets.” Tawnie was a yellowish dark color. All in white alludes to the appropriate costume of the Moor. The Prince of Morocco enters to the sound (flourish) of martial music. This scene represents only the preliminary meeting of Portia and the Prince; his choice is deferred to Scene VII of this act.

1. Mislike, dislike.

7. reddest, the superlative was often used as a comparative. Compare 1 Henry VI, ii. 4. 14: “Between two horses which doth bear him best.” Red blood was considered a proof of courage.

8. aspect. Stress on the last syllable, like many other Elizabethan words, now pronounced with the accent on the first.

9. fear’d, frightened.

12. thoughts, affections.

13. In terms of choice, in the matter of choosing [a husband].

14. nice, fanciful.

17. scanted, limited.

18. wit, ingenuity.

19. His wife who wins. The possessive formerly, having the greater powers of a genitive case, could be used as the antecedent of a relative, as here.

20, 21. as fair As any. This absolutely truthful statement of Portia (who means that the Prince, were she free to choose, stands as fair a chance of winning her as any of the suitors whom she has already refused) conveys a very different meaning to his majesty of Morocco; who, taking it to himself – as it was intended that he should – thanks Portia for her civility. Notice the play on the word fair, which means on equal terms with the rest, but also refers to the Prince’s color, which Portia assures him is not to bar him from an equal chance with other fairer suitors.

25. Sophy, commonly used to denote the ruler of Persia, though originally meaning only a wise man.

26. Solyman was the greatest Sultan of Shakespeare’s century. A romantic drama like this does not demand historical accuracy in its references. But this allusion is doubtless to Solyman’s disastrous campaign against the Persians in 1535.

31. alas the while! literally, “Alas for the present condition of things!” Here equal to alas!

32. Hercules and Lichas. Lichas was the servant and hence the page (line 35 below) of Hercules, who, unknowing, brought that hero the garment poisoned with the blood of the Centaur, Nessus, by the wearing of which Hercules lost his life.

35. Alcides. Hercules was so called from his stepfather’s father, Alcaeus.

42. be advised, be deliberate.

43. Nor will not. A double negative in a negative sense, meaning, Nor will I speak to lady afterward, etc. See above, i. 2. 28: “Nor refuse none.”

44. to the temple, the place in which the Prince’s choice of the caskets was to be made; perhaps no more than a temple-like structure in which the caskets were placed.

46. blest or cursed’st, most blessed or most cursed. It is no uncommon idiom of Elizabethan writers thus “to attach terminations to one adjective which affect others.” Compare Measure for Measure, iv. 6. 13: “The generous and gravest citizens.”


How to cite the explanatory notes:
Shakespeare, William. The Merchant of Venice. Ed. Felix E. Schelling. New York: American Book Co., 1903.