From The Merchant of Venice, explain the stanzas in Act 1, Scene 2.

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durbanville eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Act I scene ii of The Merchant of Venice drives the plot forward as Shakespeare introduces the question of Portia and her future, potential husband. Portia is tired of the stresses of the world but her serving woman, Nerissa reminds her that her "good fortunes" far outweigh her "miseries." Portia appreciates Nerissa's good advice and points out that it is "easy to know" the right thing to do but not so easy to actually "follow mine own teaching."

She gets on to the problem of being able to "choose" a husband and no amount of good advice can change the fact that Portia's late father has "curbed the will of a living daughter" by drawing up a will which attaches conditions to any forthcoming marriage so that she "cannot choose one, nor refuse none." Nerissa reassures Portia that her father's intentions were "virtuous" and she is certain that the man who chooses correctly from the caskets of gold, silver and lead, thereby winning her hand in marriage, shall be the "one who shall rightly love," despite the fact that this method is a"lottery."

Portia and Nerissa proceed to discuss the potential suitors, First, the Neapolitan prince about whom Portia jokes that she doubts his heritage and his real father as perhaps his mother "played false with a smith." The County Palatine "smiles not" and is miserable all the time so she would not like him to be her husband and hopes she can be saved from both of these men. 

The French Lord fares no better in Portia's estimation and is worse than a combination of the previous two she mentioned and no amount of his love could ever make her love him back. Portia is aware that she is mocking all her suitors but cannot help herself. 

There is a language barrier between Portia and Falconbridge and, added to this, he perhaps has something of an identity crisis and is "oddly suited" choosing his styles from around Europe. The Scottish lord has questionable wealth and the German, the nephew of the Duke of Saxony, is basically a drunk. Portia has the most contempt for him and is sure that he can be easily persuaded to choose the wrong casket if a glass of (Rhenish)wine is placed appropriately and he is tempted to drink from it and open the ill-chosen casket. 

Nerissa informs Portia that she does not need to worry about these men as they are all too scared of the conditions that Portia's father attached to any marriage proposal and will "return to their home." Portia is grateful for this and wonders whether she will ever find a suitable husband through "the manner of my father's will."

She is reminded of Bassanio - "a Venetian, a scholar and a soldier" and he is "the best deserving " which comment Portia readily agrees with. However, just as Portia thinks she has been saved because the other suitors are returning home, a serving man advises her of another  - the Prince of Morocco. Portia cannot feel pleased and would rather have him hear her confession ("shrive me") (like a priest would) than become his wife.   

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The Merchant of Venice

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