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In Act 2, Scene 1 of William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, in the speech...

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bobbyroychoud... | (Level 1) Salutatorian

Posted September 11, 2013 at 5:26 PM via web

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In Act 2, Scene 1 of William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, in the speech beginning "In terms of choice I am not solely led/By nice direction of a maiden's eyes," what does the line, "the lottery of my destiny mean"?

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Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted September 11, 2013 at 6:39 PM (Answer #1)

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In The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare, Portia is a young woman who is forced to abide by the stipulations in her father's will about who she can marry in order to keep her inheritance. Though he probably intended for his plan to be in his daughter's best interest, the plan he devised really does seem to leave the decision about Portia's destiny to chance.

Portia's father left three boxes (one made of silver, one made of gold, and one made of lead), and the suitor who picks the right box is allowed to marry Portia. The correct box is the one with her portrait in it. Unfortunately for the suitors, if they choose to risk opening a box, they must give up the right to marry anyone else; which is undoubtedly her father's attempt to ward off any frivolous suitors. 

The speech to which you refer is spoken by Portia after one of her suitors, a Moorish prince, gives his own speech asking Portia not to judge him for his dark skin. She responds to him this way:

In 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 fair
As any comer I have look'd on yet
For my affection.

Her reply, of course, is that she will no make any choices based on appearance because she is not allowed to make any choices at all. When she calls this whole process (her father's plan) "the lottery of my destiny," she means that the man she will end up marrying is a matter of mere luck and chance, something completely out of her control. 

We know, of course, that Portia manages to find a way to manipulate "the lottery of [her] destiny" at least a bit, but her point in this speech is clear: she sees her father's perhaps well intentioned plan as nothing more than a grand game of chance, just like the lottery. 

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