The Merchant of Venice

by William Shakespeare

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What is a character sketch of the Prince of Morocco in The Merchant Of Venice?  

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The Prince of Morocco's grand entrance at the beginning of Act a, is an excellent indication of his flamboyant and seemingly overbearing nature. His opening remark, "Mislike me not for my complexion," is a clear indication of his awareness about racial prejudice. He is most obviously not embarrassed about his dark skin and proudly proclaims his African heritage and peerage. He comes across as self-assured and somewhat boastful when he claims that, despite his skin tone, even the most courageous fear him and that he has impressed many of the most beautiful virgins in his country. His statement that he will never change his color is a further assertion of his pride. He displays artful flattery, though, when he tells Portia that he will only change his skin tone if it would encourage her to think only of him.    

The Prince has a conceited opinion of himself. He later brags about his conquests in battle and flatteringly declares that he will undertake the most arduous tasks to win Portia's hand. He alludes to Hercules (and Alcides), the mythological hero, because he evidently deems himself his equal. He also suggests that he is a better man than most; he states that he will "die with grieving" if a man lesser than he should succeed in winning Portia's hand. The Prince is also demanding and impatient; he wishes to try his luck in choosing a casket almost immediately. Portia, however, tells him that he first has to go to the temple to make his vows before making his choice.

Further evidence of the Prince's arrogance is later provided in scene 7 when he has the opportunity to choose a casket. He rejects the lead casket because "A golden mind stoops not to shows of dross." He also believes that it would be beneath a man of his stature to even consider the silver chest since he deserves only the best. He believes that Portia is the richest gem and that "never so rich a gem was set in worse than gold." Since he should have what all men seek, namely, Portia, he chooses the golden box. 

In the end, the Prince chooses the wrong casket. He quickly admits that he was fooled by the alluring glitter of gold and accepts his mistake. Once he realizes that his gamble has not paid off, he shows real gentlemanly spirit by wishing Portia well and quickly taking leave. It is ironic that the Prince who initially asked others to ignore his color becomes so obsessed with the one misleading hue that would eventually spell his failure—gold.   

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The Prince of Morocco is a proud, valiant man. However, because he is foreign and has very dark skin, he displays some anxiety about Portia's acceptance of him.

The Prince's focus upon his dark skin and Portia's impression of his physical appearance indicates that he values the superficial. As proof that he is a true prince, he offers to cut his flesh and show her that his blood is redder than any man who is fairer than he. He says he would change nothing about himself but to change her opinion of him:

              ...I would not change this hue,
Except to steal your thoughts, my gentle queen. (2.1.11-12)

He also believes that he 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. (2.7.34-36)

Then, too, he may possess a secret fear that Portia does not desire him. Also, this focus upon the superficial extends itself to his choice of the caskets as he misjudges which one is the correct choice because of the appearance the caskets. For, he cannot believe that Portia's father would put her portrait in anything but the gold casket since her beauty is deserving of nothing but the best.

When he does not make the correct choice, he says that he leaves in despair, but he will not linger.

Then, farewell, heat, and welcome, frost!
Portia, adieu. I have too grieved a heart
To take a tedious leave. Thus losers part. (2.7.81-83)
Thus, the Prince of Morocco demonstrates strong character in the end, as he makes no complaints.

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