The Merchant of Venice

by William Shakespeare

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In act 2, scene 1 of William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, what is the lottery of Portia's destiny? How does it prevent her from the right of voluntary choosing? Explain the lines, "But, if my father had not scanted me, / And hedg'd me by his wit, to yield myself / His wife, who wins me by that means I told you." How prudent was Portia's father to have arranged her marriage through a lottery? Give a reason for your answer.

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Portia’s father keeps an unusual, strange lottery to seek a husband for her. Portia calls this lottery as the lottery of her destiny because this lottery will decide her future husband (And as we know, since ancient times, a husband is thought to be a woman’s destiny).

In the lottery, her father keeps three caskets or boxes (a box of gold, a box of silver and a box of lead) and all the men who want to marry Portia have to choose one of them. The trick is that only one of these boxes has Portia’s portrait in it. The person who choses the correct box, i.e. the one with Portia’s portrait in it, will get to marry her. Her father keeps another condition in this game. He says that if a person chooses the wrong box, he cannot marry anyone else in life. He thinks that such a condition will fitter out any one who isn’t serious about marrying her.

A lottery leaves everything to chance and luck and, thus, prevents Portia from voluntarily choosing the suitor she likes. She is forced by her father to accept the person who wins the lottery.

But, if my father had not scanted me,
And hedg'd me by his wit, to yield myself
His wife, who wins me by that means I told you,

The Prince of Morocco tells Portia that he looks great and is quite a demanded guy amongst pretty ladies of his country. Portia delivers the above-mentioned lines in reply to the Moroccan prince. She tells him that her choice is not considered at all in her father’s plan and everything is left to chance. So even if he is good looking and is able to impress her, this doesn't make any difference. She further says that in case her father wouldn’t have restricted and confined her with his wit and plan, then he would have got an equal chance to woo and marry her.

Although Portia’s father wants to find her the best person, the challenge he devises is absurd and leaves everything to sheer luck and chance. As a reader, we know that such a method to find a husband for any girl is wrong. Besides, Portia already loves someone. So it appears that Portia’s father acts imprudently in this situation.

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