What about the song in "The Merchant of Venice"? Does Bassanio's speech take its cue from all these suggestions?Does the second stanza suggest that one should not trust one's eyes (for...

What about the song in "The Merchant of Venice"? Does Bassanio's speech take its cue from all these suggestions?

Does the second stanza suggest that one should not trust one's eyes (for which gold is dazzling) or ears (bells are made of silver)?

Expert Answers
robertwilliam eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The song itself is a bit of a puzzle. Who sings it? Who can hear it? Is Bassanio commenting on it, or are we supposed to think of it as a sort of narratorial (i.e. Shakespeare's) comment on the scene? It's impossible to actually say: and it varies from production to production.

The song does ask why we fall in love (where is fancy bred):

Tell me where is fancy bred,
Or in the heart, or in the head?
How begot, how nourished?

It is engender'd in the eyes,
With gazing fed; and fancy dies(70)
In the cradle where it lies;
Let us all ring fancy's knell;
I'll begin it,—
Ding, dong, bell.

Do we fall in love in our hearts or in our heads? And how are we to read the difficult second stanza? Is there an unspoken "if", implying "if fancy starts off in the eyes... then fancy dies", or is the thought "fancy dies / in the cradle where it lies" entirely different?

And what does it mean to "ring the bell of fancy" - sound the bell of falling in love? Who hears the bell? Does Bassanio hear it? Or are we to presume that it's all part of the casket game: if you choose the casket based on your "eyes", then "fancy dies"... if so, why haven't the other suitors heard it?

One thing - which you don't mention - remains. Portia has seen the gold and silver caskets opened. By process of elimination, she knows that the lead casket must be the correct one. And every line in the first three stanzas ends with a word which rhymes with lead...


 

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The Merchant of Venice

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