Act I - Scene II


Enter Portia with her waiting woman Nerissa.

By my troth, Nerissa, my little body is a-weary of
this great world.
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,(5)
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.
Good sentences, and well pronounced.
They would be better, if well followed.(10)
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(15)
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 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(20)
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?
Your father was ever virtuous; and holy men at their(25)
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 you shall rightly love. But what warmth is there in(30)
your affection towards any of these princely suitors that
are already come?
I pray thee, over-name them; and as thou namest
them I will describe them; and according to my description
level at my affection.(35)
First, there is the Neapolitan prince.
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
afraid my lady his mother played false with a smith.(40)
Then, is there the county Palatine.
He doth nothing but frown; as who should say, An you
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.(45)
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
How say you by the French lord, Monsieur Le Bon?
God made him, and therefore let him pass for a man.(50)
In truth, I know it is a sin to be a mocker; but, 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(55)
marry twenty husbands: If he would despise me I would forgive
him; for if he love me to madness I shall never requite
What say you then to Falconbridge, the young baron
of England?(60)
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(65)
oddly he is suited! I think he bought his doublet in Italy,
his round hose in France, his bonnet in Germany and his
behaviour everywhere.
What think you of the Scottish lord, his neighbour?
That he hath a neighbourly charity in him; for he borrowed(70)
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.
How like you the young German, the Duke of Saxony's
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.(80)
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.
Therefore, for fear of the worst, I pray thee, set a deep
glass of Rhenish wine on the contrary casket; for, if the(85)
devil be within and that temptation without, I know he
will choose it. I will do anything, Nerissa, ere I will be
married to a sponge.
You need not fear, lady, the having any of these
lords: they have acquainted me with their determinations:(90)
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.
If I live to be as old as Sibylla I will die as chaste as(95)
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 them a fair departure.
Do you not remember, lady, in your father's time,(100)
a Venetian, a scholar and a soldier that came hither in
company of the Marquis of Montferrat?
Yes, yes, it was Bassanio; as I think, so was he
True, madam; he, of all the men that ever my foolish(105)
eyes looked upon, was the best deserving a fair lady.
I remember him well; and I remember him worthy
of thy praise.

Enter a Servingman.

How now! what news?
The four strangers seek for you, madam, to take(110)
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.
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(115)
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 gate upon one wooer, another knocks at the



  1. Portia's repetition in this line shows her recognition of the name and interest in Bassanio. She does not only remember him but emphatically remembers him.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  2. Diana is the Roman goddess of the hunt and chastity. She never took a lover or a husband to preserve her autonomy.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  3. Sibylla, or the Cumean Sybil, was a prophetess who asked Apollo for eternal life. Apollo granted her as many years of life as the grains of sand that she could hold in her hand. However, Apollo did not give her eternal youth. Over a thousand years, Sybil grew more decrepit and small until nothing was left of her but her voice.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  4. "Sponge" refers to someone who drinks a lot of alcohol. Portia's joke, that she could get her suitors to pick the wrong casket by putting a wine bottle on top of one of the caskets shows that Portia believes her suitors are much less intelligent then she is.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  5. Nerissa brings the humorous diatribe against Portia's suitors to an end by reminding Portia of her filial obligation to marry whoever passes her father's test. In this way, Shakespeare reminds the audience of Portia's problem and returns to the main action of the play.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  6. The "young German" is based on John Casimir, the Duke of Saxony's actual nephew during Shakespeare's time. Casimir was known infamously throughout Europe as the leader of soldiers who were often drunk and partied excessively. Shakespeare probably intended to make a joke out of this well known figure by making the "young German" a vile drunkard.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  7. Because France and England were rivals, France would often financially support Scotland in its efforts against England. This is another way in which Shakespeare uses the description of the suitors to make fun of France and Scotland, two of England's political rivals.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  8. After Henry VIII's break with the Catholic Church tensions between Catholic Scotland and Protestant England became incredibly high. Scotland refused to join England's religious movement and England launched a series of raids and attacks on its neighboring country. "Box of the ear" means to punch someone in the side of the head. Here, Shakespeare uses the term to refer to English attacks on Scotland, and Scotland's inability to "repay" the hit on England's much larger military force.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  9. A "dumb show" is a series of gestures and facial expressions used to communicate without speaking. It was a pantomime technique generally used for comedic effect in Early Modern theaters. Because Portia and the English suitor cannot communicate, Shakespeare is able to avoid making fun of England with the same stereotypes that have characterized suitors from other nations.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  10. Notice that in Portia's denunciation of her suitors, Shakespeare is able to poke fun at other nations using their stereotypes. Since national identification was extremely important during Shakespeare's time, these descriptions would have been extremely funny to Shakespeare's audience. Consequently, Portia would appear more likable for her ability to make the audience laugh.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  11. This means that the French Lord begins dancing every time he hears music playing. The French Lord tries to outdo everyone else to the point of being obnoxious.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  12. A "death's head" was a colloquial term for a skull in Shakespeare's time. It could also mean a prostitute, philanderer, or person of otherwise improper sexual conduct.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  13. Portia infers that the Prince's mother cheated on his father with a blacksmith since this is the only explanation for the Prince's obsession with horses and shoeing horses. Portia's crude humor and wit here would make her funny and appealing to both the low and high members of Shakespeare's audience. This introduction to Portia suggests that the audience should like her.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  14. A colt is a young horse. This is a description that doubles as an insult since a colt would be a silly and inexperienced young person. This adjective also refers to the Prince's obsession with his horse.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  15. Notice that Shakespeare tells the audience about the test Portia's father created using Nerissa's lines. Portia would not need this information to be repeated. The test asks suitors to pick one cask out of three: iron, silver, and gold. The suitor who picks the right cask will be deserving of Portia's hand in marriage.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  16. While Antonio does not seem to have a reason to be upset, Portia has an identifiable issue to grapple with: she is unable to choose her future husband because of stipulations laid out in her father's will. Portia's desire to choose her own destiny characterizes her as a sympathetic character and foreshadows her sovereignty within the play.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  17. Nerissa claims that those who have a lot often grow older faster than those who have little. Though the characters in the first half of the play value money above all else, here Nerissa offers an alternative theme: excess is corrupting and moderation is liberating.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  18. Notice that Portia and Antonio begin on the same melancholic note: Antonio is sad for an unknown reason, Portia is weary for an unknown reason.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff