The Merchant of Venice

by William Shakespeare

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In The Merchant of Venice, why is fortune depicted as blind?

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Fortune in this period was often portrayed as a woman, the "Lady Fortuna" spinning a wheel. This iconography indicates the random and unpredictable nature of Fortune or luck and its lack of connection to intrinsic merit or skill. The Prince of Morocco points this out in his statement:

If Hercules and Lichas play at dice

Which is the better man, the greater throw

May turn by fortune from the weaker hand ...

On the most simple level, this means that many things depend on chance and cannot be foreseen. Because we cannot understand why certain people get rewards and others not, we could imagine Fortune as a blind woman spinning a wheel to choose whether we get good or bad luck. Fortune is not earned, but seems entirely random. As the Preacher says in Ecclesiastes:

 ...the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all ...

This resulted in a religious problem of how one could reconcile a benevolent, omniscient, omnipotent God with the apparent randomness of Fortune. In Shakespeare's time, the widely accepted solution was Boethius' distinction between Providence, the ordering of the world as God sees it from an eternal perspective, and Fortune, our limited understanding of the world. According to Boethius, because mortal minds cannot perceive Providence, we see as random and irrational Fortune things that are actually part of a divine plan we cannot grasp. 

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