What is the lottery system discussed in Act One, scene two of William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice?

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Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Merchant of Venice, by William Shakespeare, is a comedy about love, money, and mistaken identities. In Act One, scene two of the play, a young woman named Portia is bemoaning the fact that her dead father has done something terrible. She tells Nerissa, her lady in waiting

"...I may

neither choose whom I would nor refuse whom I

dislike; so is the will of a living daughter curbed

by the will of a dead father.

Portia's father has left the decision for his daughter's choice of husband to a lottery. He has left three boxes (one silver, one gold, and one lead) from which each suitor must choose. Whichever of them selects the correct box (the one which contains a picture of Portia) will presumably be the man worthy to become Portia's husband. Anyone who chooses incorrectly, however, must vow never to marry at all. Many suitors come to take their chances at winning Portia for a wife.

**Spoiler alert** Bassanio, the young man Portia hopes will choose the correct casket (box), eventually does so; with a little help from Portia's servant friends, he ignores outward appearances and chooses the lead box. 

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The Merchant of Venice

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