The Merchant of Venice

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Act II, Scene 9

Belmont. A room in PORTIA’S house.

       
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[Enter NERISSA with a Servitor]

  • Nerissa. Quick, quick, I pray thee; draw the curtain straight:
    The Prince of Arragon hath ta'en his oath, 1130
    And comes to his election presently.
    [Flourish of cornets. Enter the PRINCE OF ARRAGON,]
    PORTIA, and their trains]
  • Portia. Behold, there stand the caskets, noble prince:
    If you choose that wherein I am contain'd, 1135
    Straight shall our nuptial rites be solemnized:
    But if you fail, without more speech, my lord,
    You must be gone from hence immediately.
  • Prince of Arragon. I am enjoin'd by oath to observe three things:
    First, never to unfold to any one 1140
    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. 1145
  • Portia. To these injunctions every one doth swear
    That comes to hazard for my worthless self.
  • Prince of Arragon. 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.' 1150
    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, 1155
    Not learning more than the fond eye doth teach;
    Which pries not to the 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, 1160
    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:' 1165
    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 1170
    Were not derived corruptly, and that clear honour
    Were purchased 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 1175
    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, 1180
    And instantly unlock my fortunes here.

[He opens the silver casket]

  • Portia. Too long a pause for that which you find there.
  • Prince of Arragon. What's here? the portrait of a blinking idiot,
    Presenting me a schedule! I will read it. 1185
    How much unlike art thou to Portia!
    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? 1190
  • Portia. To offend, and judge, are distinct offices
    And of opposed natures.
  • Prince of Arragon. What is here?
    [Reads]
    The fire seven times tried this: 1195
    Seven times tried that judgment is,
    That did never choose amiss.
    Some there be that shadows kiss;
    Such have but a shadow's bliss:
    There be fools alive, I wis, 1200
    Silver'd o'er; and so was this.
    Take what wife you will to bed,
    I will ever be your head:
    So be gone: you are sped.
    Still more fool I shall appear 1205
    By the time I linger here
    With one fool's head I came to woo,
    But I go away with two.
    Sweet, adieu. I'll keep my oath,
    Patiently to bear my wroth. 1210

[Exeunt Arragon and train]

  • Portia. Thus hath the candle singed the moth.
    O, these deliberate fools! when they do choose,
    They have the wisdom by their wit to lose.
  • Nerissa. The ancient saying is no heresy, 1215
    Hanging and wiving goes by destiny.
  • Portia. Come, draw the curtain, Nerissa.

[Enter a Servant]

  • Portia. Here: what would my lord? 1220
  • Servant. 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,
    To wit, besides commends and courteous breath, 1225
    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,
    As this fore-spurrer comes before his lord. 1230
  • Portia. 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
    Quick Cupid's post that comes so mannerly. 1235
  • Nerissa. Bassanio, lord Love, if thy will it be!

[Exeunt]

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