In The Merchant Of Venice, Act 2 scene 1, why does Portia ask the prince of Morocco to go to the temple before he chooses a casket? Why does the prince say fortune is blind? What does he fear...

In The Merchant Of Venice, Act 2 scene 1, why does Portia ask the prince of Morocco to go to the temple before he chooses a casket?

Why does the prince say fortune is blind? What does he fear since, as he believes, blind fortune is leading him to choose the casket?


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andrewnightingale eNotes educator| Certified Educator

When the prince arrives, he immediately draws attention to his darker complexion asking Portia not to dislike him for that. He then goes into a reasonably lengthy speech about his good qualities and how his looks have not deterred him from achieving success. Portia assures him that she will not judge him and that he has as equal a chance as any to win her affection, for she is bound by the conditions of her father's will.

The prince is quite pleased on hearing that and thanks Portia for her courtesy. He proceeds to tell her that he will undertake sundry risks to win her hand. He expresses the fear, though, that he cannot determine his fate and that someone less worthy than he might win her hand. He is, however, prepared to take a risk and wishes to immediately proceed to the task he came for, which is to choose one of three caskets: gold, silver or lead as per the conditions of the will.

Portia reminds him of the conditions in the will as they pertain to him. He agrees and says that he will not break the vow contained therein and says:

Nor will not. Come, bring me unto my chance. 

Portia responds by saying:

First, forward to the temple: after dinner
Your hazard shall be made.

A temple is normally a holy shrine or place which is specifically reserved for religious ceremonies. It is, therefore, a place to be revered. The temple Portia refers to is probably just such a place of sanctimony. The three caskets are, in all likelihood, also housed there. She tells the prince that they should first visit the temple so that he may take an oath in terms of the will. He will be bound to the oath and, to lend such a vow credence, it is essential that it is made in a place of worship, which the temple rightly would be. The prince has to adhere to the following, as Portia has already told him:

You must take your chance,
And either not attempt to choose at all
Or swear before you choose, if you choose wrong
Never to speak to lady afterward
In way of marriage: therefore be advised.

The vow is binding and the prince has, of course, agreed to abide by it but, to make it valid, he has to formally take the oath in the temple. Portia tells him that he may then make his choice after he has completed this formality and they have enjoyed dinner.

Fortune refers to one's destiny and since one cannot foretell the future, and, therefore, see what is going to happen, we are blind to our own fortune. It is all a matter of chance.  

The prince's sentiment about this is summarised in his statement:

And so may I, blind fortune leading me,
Miss that which one unworthier may attain,
And die with grieving.

He is afraid that he may miss the opportunity, in taking this chance, in winning Portia's hand and that someone less worthy than him may attain her. He would if it should be so, die of sorrow. He had earlier stated that fortune (destiny) does not distinguish between rich and poor, fortunate or unfortunate. We are all victim to its vagaries and he might lose out, even though he is the better man.  


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The Merchant of Venice

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