In Act 2, scene 1 of The Merchant of Venice, what qualities does a creature born in the North have? Why?

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teachersage's profile pic

teachersage | (Level 2) Senior Educator

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A "tawny Moor," the Prince of Morocco is brought in as a suitor to Portia. He impresses her with his speech, which addresses Europe's racism. The first words he speaks ask her not to "mislike" him for his darker skin tone. 
 
He then asserts the inherent humanity of all people regardless of their skin color. To overcome what he believes is his greatest weakness as a lover, his race, he argues that he is the same as a white person because his blood is as red as even the "fairest" (lightest-skinned; but Shakespeare also puns on the double meaning of fair as both light and beautiful) suitor from the north. By saying his blood is as red as any white person's, he means he is the same inside as any white person. 
Bring me the fairest creature northward born,
Where Phoebus' fire scarce thaws the icicles,
And let us make incision for your love
To prove whose blood is reddest, his or mine.
I tell thee, lady, this aspect of mine
Hath feared the valiant. 
The Prince of Morocco thus foreshadows the theme of mercy that will come out more prominently in the "pound of flesh" suit later: all people are human, all people bleed, all people deserve mercy. The subtext or implication of the prince's plea is that he, or any dark-skinned person, can suffer ("bleed") like a white person. He also notes at the end that his skin color ("this aspect of mine") also has a virtue, even if it is not what appeals to the ladies: it "hath feared the valiant." In other words, he is saying that while his race might not make him the most handsome lover, it will offer her more protection because it intimidates people. He shows his wisdom by turning what he perceives to be his chief disadvantage to an advantage. 
 
In sum, the prince says that a person born in the north might be better-looking, but he is essentially the same as the prince: they are both humans. Further, the fairer skin of the northern man might be more attractive, but the darker skin of the prince offers more protection. 
sciftw's profile pic

sciftw | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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This line is spoken by the Moroccan Prince that has come to win Portia's hand in marriage.  Portia's father has mandated that any suitor must correctly pick a box in order to marry Portia.  The Moroccan Prince has come to give it a try.  Being from Morocco means that he has much darker skin than the Venetians Portia is used to seeing.  To that attitude, the prince responds:

"Mislike me not for my complexion,
The shadow'd livery of the burnish'd sun,
To whom I am a neighbour and near bred."

In other words, he is asking Portia not to dislike him because he lives close to the sun and is tan.

Then the Moroccan Prince challenges Portia to compare him to any light-skinned man.  He will bleed the same color.

"Bring me the fairest creature northward born,
Where Phoebus' fire scarce thaws the icicles,
And let us make incision for your love,
To prove whose blood is reddest, his or mine."

The light-skinned man is the "creature northward born."  The only guaranteed quality that the text indicates about a creature northward born is that he would have light colored skin.  He would be a white guy.  You could make an educated guess as to what else might be included in that description.  Since it is spoken by a Moroccan, the line might reference any European, since Morocco is in Africa.   

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