Act II - Scene IX


Enter Nerissa and a servitor.

Quick, quick, I pray thee, draw the curtain straight;
The Prince of Arragon hath ta'en his oath,
And comes to his election presently.

Enter [the Prince of] Arragon, his train, and Portia. Flourish of cornets.

Behold, there stand the caskets, noble prince;
If you choose that wherein I am contain'd,(5)
Straight shall our nuptial rites be solemniz'd;
But if you fail, without more speech, my lord,
You must be gone from hence immediately.
I am enjoin'd by oath to observe three things:
First, never to unfold to any one,(10)
Which casket 'twas I chose; next, if I fail
Of the right casket, never in my life
To woo a maid in way of marriage; Lastly,
If I do fail in fortune of my choice,
Immediately to leave you, and be gone.(15)
To these injunctions every one doth swear,
That comes to hazard for my worthless self.
And so have I address'd me: Fortune now
To my heart's hope!—Gold; silver; and base lead.
Who chooseth me, must give and hazard all he hath.(20)
You shall look fairer, ere I give, or hazard.
What says the golden chest? ha! let me see:
Who chooseth me, shall gain what many men desire.
What many men desire.—that many may be meant
By the fool multitude, that choose by show,(25)
Not learning more than the fond eye doth teach;
Which pries not to th' interior, but, like the martlet,
Builds in the weather on the outward wall,
Even in the force and road of casualty.
I will not choose what many men desire,(30)
Because I will not jump with common spirits,
And rank me with the barbarous multitudes.
Why, then to thee, thou silver treasure-house;
Tell me once more what title thou dost bear:
Who chooseth me, shall get as much as he deserves.(35)
And well said too. for who shall go about
To cozen fortune, and be honourable
Without the stamp of merit! Let none presume
To wear an undeserved dignity:
O, that estates, degrees, and offices,(40)
Were not deriv'd corruptly! and that clear honour
Were purchas'd by the merit of the wearer!
How many then should cover that stand bare!
How many be commanded that command!
How much low peasantry would then be glean'd(45)
From the true seed of honour! and how much honour
Pick'd from the chaff and ruin of the times,
To be new varnish'd! Well, but to my choice:
Who chooseth me, shall get as much as he deserves.
I will assume desert:—Give me a key for this,(50)
And instantly unlock my fortunes here.

[He opens the silver casket]

Too long a pause for that which you find there.
What's here? the portrait of a blinking idiot,
Presenting me a schedule! I will read it.
How much unlike art thou to Portia!(55)
How much unlike my hopes and my deservings!
Who chooseth me, shall have as much as he deserves.
Did I deserve no more than a fool's head?
Is that my prize? are my deserts no better?
To offend, and judge, are distinct offices,(60)
And of opposed natures.
What is here?
The fire seven times tried this;
Seven times tried that judgment is,
That did never choose amiss:(65)
Some there be that shadows kiss,
Such have but a shadow's bliss:
There be fools alive, iwis,
Silver'd o'er; and so was this.
Take what wife you will to bed,(70)
I will ever be your head:
So be gone: you are sped.
Still more fool I shall appear,
By the time I linger here:
With one fool's head I came to woo,(75)
But I go away with two.
Sweet, adieu! I'll keep my oath,
Patiently to bear my wroth.
Thus hath the candle sing'd the moth.
O these deliberate fools! when they do choose,(80)
They have the wisdom by their wit to lose.
The ancient saying is no heresy;—
Hanging and wiving goes by destiny.
Come, draw the curtain, Nerissa.

Enter Messenger.

Where is my lady?(85)
Here; what would my lord?
Madam, there is alighted at your gate
A young Venetian, one that comes before
To signify the approaching of his lord;
From whom he bringeth sensible regreets;(90)
To wit, (besides commends and courteous breath),
Gifts of rich value; Yet I have not seen
So likely an ambassador of love:
A day in April never came so sweet,
To show how costly summer was at hand,(95)
As this fore-spurrer comes before his lord.
No more, I pray thee; I am half afeard,
Thou wilt say anon he is some kin to thee,
Thou spend'st such high-day wit in praising him.
Come, come, Nerissa; for I long to see(100)
Quick Cupid's post that comes so mannerly.
Bassanio, lord Love, if thy will it be.



  1. By this, the messenger means the suitor brings physical gifts. Notice that Bassanio knows that he must woo Portia with material items. Unlike Morocco who tried to convince Portia of his worth with words, or Arragon who believed that he was inherently worthy of Portia, Bassanio buys Portia's affections.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  2. This metaphor suggests that the seeker was burned by the very thing that they sought, as in a moth who is burned by the flame. In this way, Portia mocks the suitors for not only their bad choices but their decision to pursue her in the first place.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  3. This suggestion contradicts the oath Arragon and all of the other suitors had to take in order to take the casket challenge. Remember, that each suitor must promise to never pursue a woman for marriage if they choose Portia's casket wrong.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  4. "Iwis" means certainly. The scroll compares fools covered in silver to this box, which ended up being a fool's portrait covered in silver. Again, the caskets emphasize the theme of something's inner content being in tension with its outward appearance.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  5. The "this" in this line refers to the silver. "Tried" means purified. The scroll references the silver making process to suggest that the decision to pick the silver casket did not go through as many trials of judgement as it took to make the chest.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  6. In other words, Portia says that Arragon cannot be both the judge and the recipient of the judgement. He cannot say that his case is unfair when it is a case about him. Portia's lines here mock Arragon's indignant questions in the previous lines.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  7. Arragon opens the casket to find a mirror that reflects his own face. His lines can be played to show his disappointment and self-reflection, or as angry since he truly believed that he would choose the right casket.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  8. By this, Arragon means I will claim what I deserve. Unlike Morocco who did not assume that he deserved Portia, Arragon reveals his arrogance in choosing the silver chest.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  9. Arragon again reveals his pretentious attitude towards fortune and privilege: he believes that anyone who is fortunate is inherently deserving of their lot in life. In other words, he believes that classes are stratified because those at the top deserve to be there; by extension, he believes that he is deserving of his own good fortune.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  10. Arragon reveals his resentment towards lower classes and so called 'barbarous' people. Arragon's pretension also may have made him unlikable to Shakespeare's lower class audience and come across as buffoonish pride.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  11. Here, Arragon touches on the lesson presented in the previous scene with Morocco: one should never judge something by its exterior appearance. This statement is ironic however, because Arragon just dismissed the iron chest because of its appearance.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  12. By this line, Arragon means that "you" would have to look better for me to hazard, or risk, all that I have. Depending on who the actor directs this line to, itcan either be sincere or a comically offensive. If he says it to the casket, he simply acknowledges that iron is not pretty enough to risk seeing what is inside. If he addresses the "you" to Portia, then he says that Portia would have to be more attractive for him to risk opening an iron casket.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  13. "Worthless" in this context means "unworthy." In referring to herself as "worthless," Portia invokes a monetary term: unlike unworthy, worthless is related to something having no market value. In this way, Portia paints herself as a thing that can be bought an sold, but should not be purchased because she has no value.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  14. Arragon is a region in northwestern Spain. It is known for its elaborate architecture influenced by Moorish designs and it's wide boulevards. Arragon was a major commercial center at this time.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff