Why did Shakespeare insert the "lottery of the chests" tale into The Merchant of Venice?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Also it is important to note that by including the lottery of the chests into the play, Shakespeare is making not only a play on words, but a satirical comment on the nature of parental selected marriages. Portia must fight her own free will or her desire to pick the...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

Also it is important to note that by including the lottery of the chests into the play, Shakespeare is making not only a play on words, but a satirical comment on the nature of parental selected marriages. Portia must fight her own free will or her desire to pick the suitor of her choice based on marital qualities she finds important vs. her dead father's actual will (hence the play on words--free will vs. actual will) who has outlined very specific tasks which must be achieved before Portia's hand can be won. What is a girl to do? Obey her father who is already dead and won't have to deal with her husband for even 1 day or follow her own instincts and pick who she desires?

The ridiculous lottery is silliness at its best, a true reflection of how Shakespeare feels about these types of contests as evaluations of life mates!

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Good question. There are a number of reasons to use this plot device.
In a general sense, Shakespeare's period put more attention on the effects of fortune, even evoking fortune (fate, chance) as a kind of natural force in the universe. This device introduces an element of fate. On the plot level, it also introduces mystery; who will choose the right chest and prove himself worthy of love? On the level of characters, the choices made show the nature of the character doing the choosing; it is one of the many mechanisms in Shakespeare for showing character.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team