The Merchant of Venice

by William Shakespeare
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How does Nerissa defend the rather absurd casket lottery in The Merchant of Venice?

Nerissa defends the rather absurd casket lottery by saying that Portia's father was a wise and holy man whose casket game is set up in such a way that Portia cannot help but end up with a husband worthy of her love.

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In act 1, scene 2, when Portia complains to Nerissa that she can neither choose her own husband nor refuse to wed the man who picks the correct casket, leaving her hands tied, Nerissa rather lamely defends the casket game.

Nerissa says that Portia's father was a "virtuous" and "holy" man and that such men have good ideas. She says that the casket game, a lottery in which the man who chooses the right casket gets Portia's hand in marriage, cannot fail because of the way Portia's father has set it up. Nerissa explains that only a man who deserves Portia's love will pick the correct casket. Therefore, Nerissa tries to reassure Portia, she will end up with a good husband.

The dead father might want the best for Portia and be hoping to save her from a fortune hunter, but as circumstances show, Portia has the brains and the wisdom to make a good choice on her own. The game nevertheless forces Portia to be ingenious and use her wits when she does find the man she wants, guiding him to the right casket through the use of music. This honing of her intelligence does come in use when she goes to defend Antonio in court.

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