Explain the following lines from Act I, Scene i of The Merchant of Venice:
'Your mind is tossing on the ocean;
There, where your argosies with portly sail,
Like signiors and rich burghers on the flood
Or, as it were, the pageants of the sea,
Do over peer the petty traffickers,
That curt'sy to them, do them reverence,
As they fly by them with their woven wings.'
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These lines are spoken by Salerio (I.i.8-14). Salerio is a friend of Antonio, who is one of the main characters of the play. Salerio is replying to Antonio, who has just opened the play by admitting he feels depressed, although he has no idea why.
And such a want-wit sadness makes of me,
That I have much ado to know myself. (I.i.6-7)
Antonio says here that in fact he is feeling so despondent that it's affecting his mind; his sadness makes him lose his wits, so that he hardly knows who he is.
Salerio suggests in his reply that Antonio, a wealthy Venetian merchant, is preoccupied by thoughts of his business, his cargo ships at sea. Salerio emphasises the extent of Antonio's mental distraction with the phrase 'Your mind is tossing on the ocean' which conjures up an image of Antonio's restless, fitful thoughts, as though they were literally being carried along on the waves.
The 'argosies' are Antonio's ships, which sail with full sails in a grand manner, like eminent gentlemen ('signiors') and citizens ('burghers'), as though they were taking part in a splendid 'pageant,' or show, on the waters. Salerio goes on to fancifully imagine these imposing ships haughtily passing by lesser vessels (the 'petty traffickers') who make a show of respect to them as they skim by.
In this quote, then, Salerio paints a glowing picture of the magnitude and splendour of his friend Antonio's trade, no doubt in a bid to cheer him up.
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