In The Merchant of Venice, which casket did the Prince of Morocco choose, and why did he make this choice? 

The Prince of Morocco chooses the gold casket in act 2, scene 7 because he says it is the only casket worthy of containing the picture of Portia, "an angel," who is desired by suitors who have come from all over the world for the opportunity choose the correct casket and win Portia as their wife. The prince rejects the lead casket as "too gross" and the silver casket as "ten times undervalued to tried gold."

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

When the Prince of Morocco first appears in Williams Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice as a suitor to Portia , a beautiful and wealthy heiress, the Prince seems to want to impress her with his education and his appeal to women, even though Portia reminds him that it makes no...

This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

When the Prince of Morocco first appears in Williams Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice as a suitor to Portia, a beautiful and wealthy heiress, the Prince seems to want to impress her with his education and his appeal to women, even though Portia reminds him that it makes no difference:

Besides, the lottery of my destiny
Bars me the right of voluntary choosing (2.1.15-16).

In other words, the choice of a husband is not hers to make but is dependent on the choice that her suitor makes among the three caskets. Nevertheless, the Prince continues to plead his case by telling Portia how fearsome and fearless he is in battle.

This scene also affords Shakespeare an opportunity to tell the audience, through Portia, about one of the conditions that Portia's father imposed on her suitors. The requirement is that before a suitor can choose a casket, he must swear that if he chooses the wrong casket, he is "Never to speak to lady afterward / In way of marriage" (2.1.43-44). This seems rather a harsh condition, never to ask another woman to marry him, but it ensures that whoever wishes to marry Portia is, by virtue of sacrificing his future happiness, worthy of the opportunity to make a choice among the caskets and possibly be rewarded with Portia as his wife.

The scene ends with the Prince agreeing to swear to that condition and asking to be led to the caskets, but Portia tells him to return after dinner to make his choice.

It's not until six scenes later that the Prince is able to make his choice of one of the three caskets. This is when the audience learns about riddles inscribed on each of the caskets of gold, silver, and lead; the suitor will know if he's chosen the right casket because it will contain a picture of Portia.

The Prince immediately rejects the lead casket, which is inscribed, "Who chooseth me, must give and hazard all he hath" (2.7.9, 16). He has no intention of giving everything he has and risking his future for lead.

The Prince is intrigued by the inscription on the silver casket, "Who chooseth me, shall get as much as he deserves" (2.7.7, 23). He believes that he well and truly deserves Portia:

I do in birth deserve her, and in fortunes,
In graces, and in qualities of breeding.
But more than these, in love I do deserve.

The Prince also gives consideration to the gold casket, which is inscribed, "Who chooseth me, shall gain what many men desire" (2.7.5, 37). The Prince has no doubt that "all the world desires her" (2.7.38), since suitors come to Portia from all over the world and risk their futures and their fortunes simply for a chance to win her as their wife.

Rather than fully consider the implications of the inscriptions on each of the caskets, the Prince instead considers only the metal composition of the caskets. The lead casket is "too gross" (2.7.50), he says, to contain Portia's image. The Prince reasons that silver is "ten times undervalued to tried gold" (2.7.53), and that only a gold casket can contain the portrait of "an angel" (2.7.58) like Portia.

The Prince chooses the gold casket, opens it, and finds that it contains not Portia's picture but a rotting human skull and a scroll that reminds the Prince that "All that glisters is not gold" (2.7.66) and that "Gilded tombs do worms enfold" (2.7.70).

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The Prince chooses the gold casket for several reasons.

The Prince is quite conceited and when he reads the inscription on the lead casket:

'Who chooseth me must give and hazard all he hath.'

He believes that he is a 'golden mind' who would not stoop to hazard all he has for such a worthless substance. It is beneath him.

The inscription on the silver casket reads:

'Who chooseth me shall get as much as he deserves.'

The Prince assumes that he deserves Portia since they are equals in birth and fortune, in graces and breeding. He however feels that he deserves more than just to be an equal in those aspects, he also deserves to be loved. He then turns his attention to the gold casket on which the inscription says:

'Who chooseth me shall gain what many men desire.'

The Prince concedes that the inscription is true - all men desire the fair and prosperous Portia and therefore come from all corners of the world in an attempt to win her hand. He uses beautiful metaphoric language to describe from whence every man comes to chance their luck at winning the hand of Portia whom he describes as an earthly saint. These men cross vast, empty deserts as if they were nothing, they take on the oceans as if they were mere rivulets - all to win Portia's hand.

The Prince reconsiders the other two options: first, the lead casket. He believes that lead is too base a metal to be associated with Portia. It is an insult to even contemplate such a thing. The mere thought of her being buried in a casket made of such a worthless substance is an ignominy.

Second, the silver casket is not worthy of Portia's stature. Its value is ten times less than gold. He compares the casket to an English gold coin which has the image of an angel stamped upon it, but that is a mere image. Within the casket lies something of greater value - an angel in a golden bed (Portia).

The Prince therefore dismisses the other two caskets and chooses the gold one. He is greatly dismayed when he opens the container and finds a skull with a scroll inserted into one of the empty eye sockets. He reads the scroll which states: 'All that glitters is not gold ..' The prince had been deceived by the allure of what he believed to be the most precious of the three choices. The scroll teaches a lesson:

Many a man his life hath sold
But my outside to behold:
Gilded tombs do worms enfold.
Had you been as wise as bold,
Young in limbs, in judgment old,
Your answer had not been inscroll'd:
Fare you well; your suit is cold.

The prince should have used wisdom and the judgment of an older person instead of just his courage and youthful exuberance when he made his choice. The prince, obviously disappointed and deflated, does not tarry and leaves immediately.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team