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In Act I, Scene II of William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, Portia and her “lady-in-waiting,” Nerissa, are discussing the large number of potential suitors for the former’s hand in marriage. They are also discussing the system established in his will by Portia’s late father dictating the method by which his daughter’s husband will be selected. The man who chooses correctly among three casks will win the contest and marry the beautiful and intelligent young woman. Portia and Nerissa’s conversation provides for one of the playwright’s more comedic moments in a play that is otherwise characterized by the anguish and animosity of the character Shylock. Before Bassanio comes up on the list of potential husbands, Portia has her servant list, one by one, the suitors assembled nearby so that she can denigrate each one. Finally, Nerissa mentions Bassanio:
Do you not remember, lady, in your father's time, a
Venetian, a scholar and a soldier, that came hither
in company of the Marquis of Montferrat?
Yes, yes, it was Bassanio; as I think, he was so called.
True, madam: he, of all the men that ever my foolish
eyes looked upon, was the best deserving a fair lady.
I remember him well, and I remember him worthy of
That Bassanio is already in love with Portia and laments his limited prospects, given the competition, to prevail in the competition for Portia’s hand in marriage, and that she should remember him fondly portends positive developments for the eventual union. Portia remembers the previous encounter with Bassanio, and his is the only name that arises during the course of this conversation that is not summarily dismissed as inadequate. First, however, comes the horrific bargain involving Shylock, Antonio and Bassanio.
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