Are the conditions given to the suitors in The Merchant of Venice harsh? How would you describe it?

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emilyknight7 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Whether or not the conditions of the casket test are harsh is relative. Nowadays, if we were to hear about such a situation, if would seem extremely harsh. In the world of the play, though, where the merchants engage in so many high risk, high reward situations, this might seem just another risky business transaction, and not harsh or cruel at all. Indeed, that seems to be the way Bassanio views it. He needs to secure a fortune and is willing to wager his future marriageability to do so. In speaking of Portia, Bassanio says,

"In Belmont there is a lady richly left,
And many Jasons come in quest of her" (

Bassanio is comparing the winning of Portia's hand to the mythical quest of Jason for the Golden Fleece. He shows that, to him, the risky test is a thrilling adventure, not a terrifying wager.

Another question, though, is whether or not the casket test is cruel or unfair to Portia. She certainly seems to think it is, framing it as a way for her father to control her marriage prospects from beyond the grave. Though a father arranging his daughter's marriage was not unheard of for the time, Portia's independent and self-sufficient personality makes it particularly unpleasant for her, and she lives in fear of an unsuitable suitor claiming her.



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The Merchant of Venice

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