In The Merchant of Venice, in Act 2 Scene 1, from the extract 'Bring me the fairest creature northward bound ....... , my gentle queen'.
What idea do you get about the character of the Prince of Morocco from the extract?
Do you agree with Portia's statement that the Prince of Morocco stands as fair a chance as the other suitors? Give a reason to justify your answer.
We get the impression that the Prince of Morocco is rather vain.'This aspect of mine/hath feared the valiant’ – here he is saying that his very appearance scares off brave men, and he further boasts that the best girls in Morocco - 'the best-regarded virgins of our clime' - love him.
However, we see that there is a particular reason why he shows off in this way. He is actually very self-conscious about the racial difference between him and Portia. He fears his dark colour will lose him favour with her. He opens his speech by referring directly to his complexion, pleading with Portia not to 'mislike’ him on that account. This shows how sensitive he is about it. Clearly he feels he has to talk up his own achievements and qualities to compensate for his dark colour in front of Portia.
Bring me the fairest creature northward born,
Where Phoebus' fire scarce thaws the icicles,
And let us make incision for your love
To prove whose blood is reddest, his or mine.
He is saying here: ‘Bring the whitest man you can find, born in the northern lands, where it is so cold that the sun barely thaws the ice, and we’ll both cut ourselves and you’ll see that my blood is just as red as his.’ In other words, he is saying that he is as manly and desirable as the whitest man. However, he also claims extravagantly that he would be ready to change his colour, or ‘hue’, just to please Portia.
Although Portia replies that she does not just go by looks, and that the Prince would stand as much chance as any other suitor even without the casket-test, she is only flattering him. This is proved when we look at a later scene, Act II, sc.7, when he chooses the wrong casket and has to leave. Left alone, Portia appears relieved that he has gone, and says that she wants all men of the same colour as him – ‘all of his complexion’ – to fail to win her. She doesn’t want a dark-skinned man as her husband. Therefore, we see that the issue of racism that affects Shylock in this play affects the Prince of Morocco as well.