In William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, what lines of reasoning lead Portia's three suitors to make their individual choices of caskets?

Expert Answers
thanatassa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, three suitors are vying for the hand of Portia. These are Bassanio, who is actually Portia's choice, the Prince of Morrocco, and the Prince of Arragon. Her deceased father wanted to make sure that she would marry a man who loved her for herself. To ensure this, he devised the casket test. He created three caskets, each with a short inscription. The man choosing the casket that contained Portia's portrait would be granted her hand in marriage. 

The three caskets are inscribed as follows:

Gold Inscription: “Who chooseth me shall gain what many men desire."

Silver Inscription: "Who chooseth me shall get as much as he deserves."

Lead Inscription: "Who chooseth me must give and hazard all he hath."

The Prince of Morocco chooses the gold casket inscribed in Act II Scene 7 through a process of elimination. He decides against the lead one because lead seems inappropriate to Portia's beauty and because he is uncomfortable with the notion of hazard. He is uncertain about the silver because he is not entirely sure of what he deserves. He chooses the gold because the inscription, he thinks, accurately describes Portia, who is desired by many men, and also because he considers her so precious that only gold would be the appropriate setting for her portrait.

The Prince of Arragon makes his choice in Act II Scene 9, also by a process of elimination. He decides against the gold casket because he does not want to follow the common herd. He doesn't consider the lead casket seriously, but feels that his merit is so great that he deserves Portia, and thus chooses the silver one.

Bassanio makes his choice in Act III Scene 2. He distrusts gold and silver because he thinks that gaudy surfaces often conceal vices. He also approves of the way the lead threatens rather than tries to seduce, because that suggests a sort of honesty, and mirrors his love of Portia for herself rather than for her wealth. Thus he correctly chooses the lead casket.

Read the study guide:
The Merchant of Venice

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question