In Act 3 Scene 2, from the extract, " let music sound while he doth make his choice; Then, if he lose, he makes a swan-like end ..............And summon him to his marriage".  explain the lines in...

In Act 3 Scene 2, from the extract, " let music sound while he doth make his choice; Then, if he lose, he makes a swan-like end ..............And summon him to his marriage". 

explain the lines in the extract.

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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There is something very Greek about this passage and the lines that follow. Bassanio will not be put off any longer by Portia and desires to make his choice of the casket because he says, "For as I am, I live upon the rack" (3.2.25); that is, he feels that he is being tortured, pulled in different directions as the rack, an instrument of torture, pulled one's limbs. Portia reluctantly agrees to let him choose, telling her waiting-woman Nerissa to stand aside and have music playing while Bassanio makes his selection.

"Then, if he lose, he makes a swan-like end..." alludes to the belief that swans were believed never to sing until they sang enchantingly at their deaths. Also, this phrase of Portia's alludes to a phrase yet in use today--"the swan song," which became proverbial in Ancient Greece by the third century B.C. and was used many times in Western drama and poetry. The swan was a symbol of beauty and harmony, and "swan song" is a phrase that is metaphoric and denotes a final effort or performance or gesture that is performed just before retirement or death. If Bassanio chooses the wrong casket, his act will be his final one before he departs, an act which will be as death to Portia.

Portia extends the metaphor of swan-song by saying that her tears will create the river by which Bassanio as swan will swim away from her--

               ...my eye shall be the stream
And wat'ry deathbed for him.... (3.2.46-47)

 On the other hand, if Bassanio chooses the correct casket, the music will be like the "flourish" of trumpets announcing a king newly-crowned, and this flourish of trumpets will resound in Portia's heart just as the new bridegroom is awakened by those "dulcet sounds"--sweet and soothing sounds--at the beginning of his joyous wedding day.

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