Explanatory Notes for Act 2, Scene 1
From The Merchant of Venice. Ed. Felix E. Schelling. New York: American Book Co.
The old stage direction reads: "Enter Morochus a tawnie Moore
all in white, and three or foure followers accordingly, with Portia,
Nerrissa, and their traine. Flo[urish of] Cornets." Tawnie was a
yellowish dark color. All in white alludes to the appropriate costume of the Moor. The Prince of Morocco enters to the sound
(flourish) of martial music. This scene represents only the preliminary meeting of Portia and the Prince; his choice is deferred to
Scene VII of this act.
1. Mislike, dislike.
7. reddest, the superlative was often used as a comparative. Compare 1 Henry VI, ii. 4. 14: "Between two horses which doth bear
him best." Red blood was considered a proof of courage.
8. aspect. Stress on the last syllable, like many other Elizabethan words, now pronounced with the accent on the first.
9. fear'd, frightened.
12. thoughts, affections.
13. In terms of choice, in the matter of choosing [a husband].
14. nice, fanciful.
17. scanted, limited.
18. wit, ingenuity.
19. His wife who wins. The possessive formerly, having the
greater powers of a genitive case, could be used as the antecedent
of a relative, as here.
20, 21. as fair As any. This absolutely truthful statement of Portia (who means that the Prince, were she free to choose, stands as fair
a chance of winning her as any of the suitors whom she has already refused) conveys a very different meaning to his majesty of Morocco;
who, taking it to himself - as it was intended that he should - thanks Portia for her civility. Notice the play on the word fair,
which means on equal terms with the rest, but also refers to the Prince's color, which Portia assures him is not to bar him from an
equal chance with other fairer suitors.
25. Sophy, commonly used to denote the ruler of Persia, though
originally meaning only a wise man.
26. Solyman was the greatest Sultan of Shakespeare's century.
A romantic drama like this does not demand historical accuracy in
its references. But this allusion is doubtless to Solyman's disastrous campaign against the Persians in 1535.
31. alas the while! literally, "Alas for the present condition of
things!" Here equal to alas!
32. Hercules and Lichas. Lichas was the servant and hence the
page (line 35 below) of Hercules, who, unknowing, brought that
hero the garment poisoned with the blood of the Centaur, Nessus,
by the wearing of which Hercules lost his life.
35. Alcides. Hercules was so called from his stepfather's father,
42. be advised, be deliberate.
43. Nor will not. A double negative in a negative sense, meaning, Nor will I speak to lady afterward, etc. See above, i. 2. 28:
"Nor refuse none."
44. to the temple, the place in which the Prince's choice of the
caskets was to be made; perhaps no more than a temple-like
structure in which the caskets were placed.
46. blest or cursed'st, most blessed or most cursed. It is no uncommon idiom of Elizabethan writers thus "to attach terminations
to one adjective which affect others." Compare Measure for Measure, iv. 6. 13: "The generous and gravest citizens."
How to cite the explanatory notes:
Shakespeare, William. The Merchant of Venice. Ed. Felix E. Schelling. New York: American Book Co., 1903. Shakespeare Online. 20 Feb. 2011. (date when you accessed the information) < http://www.shakespeare-online.com/plays/merchant_2_1.html >.