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The Merchant of Venice

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ACT III SCENE II Belmont. A room in PORTIA'S house. 
PORTIAI pray you, tarry: pause a day or two
Before you hazard; for, in choosing wrong,
I lose your company: therefore forbear awhile.
There's something tells me, but it is not love,
I would not lose you; and you know yourself,
Hate counsels not in such a quality.
But lest you should not understand me well,--
And yet a maiden hath no tongue but thought,--
I would detain you here some month or two
Before you venture for me. I could teach you10
How to choose right, but I am then forsworn;
So will I never be: so may you miss me;
But if you do, you'll make me wish a sin,
That I had been forsworn. Beshrew your eyes,
They have o'erlook'd me and divided me;
One half of me is yours, the other half yours,
Mine own, I would say; but if mine, then yours,
And so all yours. O, these naughty times
Put bars between the owners and their rights!
And so, though yours, not yours. Prove it so,20
Let fortune go to hell for it, not I.
I speak too long; but 'tis to peize the time,
To eke it and to draw it out in length,
To stay you from election.
BASSANIOLet me choose
For as I am, I live upon the rack.
PORTIAUpon the rack, Bassanio! then confess
What treason there is mingled with your love.
BASSANIONone but that ugly treason of mistrust,
Which makes me fear the enjoying of my love:
There may as well be amity and life30
'Tween snow and fire, as treason and my love.
PORTIAAy, but I fear you speak upon the rack,
Where men enforced do speak anything.
BASSANIOPromise me life, and I'll confess the truth.
PORTIAWell then, confess and live.
BASSANIO'Confess' and 'love'
Had been the very sum of my confession:
O happy torment, when my torturer
Doth teach me answers for deliverance!
But let me to my fortune and the caskets.
PORTIAAway, then! I am lock'd in one of them:40
If you do love me, you will find me out.
Nerissa and the rest, stand all aloof.
Let music sound while he doth make his choice;
Then, if he lose, he makes a swan-like end,
Fading in music: that the comparison
May stand more proper, my eye shall be the stream
And watery death-bed for him. He may win;
And what is music then? Then music is
Even as the flourish when true subjects bow
To a new-crowned monarch: such it is50
As are those dulcet sounds in break of day
That creep into the dreaming bridegroom's ear,
And summon him to marriage. Now he goes,
With no less presence, but with much more love,
Than young Alcides, when he did redeem
The virgin tribute paid by howling Troy

To the sea-monster: I stand for sacrifice
The rest aloof are the Dardanian wives,
With bleared visages, come forth to view
The issue of the exploit. Go, Hercules!60
Live thou, I live: with much, much more dismay
I view the fight than thou that makest the fray.
[Music, whilst BASSANIO comments on the caskets to himself]
Tell me where is fancy bred,
Or in the heart, or in the head?
How begot, how nourished?
Reply, reply.
It is engender'd in the eyes,
With gazing fed; and fancy dies
In the cradle where it lies.
Let us all ring fancy's knell70
I'll begin it,--Ding, dong, bell.
ALLDing, dong, bell.
BASSANIOSo may the outward shows be least themselves:
The world is still deceived with ornament.
In law, what plea so tainted and corrupt,
But, being seasoned with a gracious voice,
Obscures the show of evil? In religion,
What damned error, but some sober brow
Will bless it and approve it with a text,
Hiding the grossness with fair ornament?80
There is no vice so simple but assumes
Some mark of virtue on his outward parts:
How many cowards, whose hearts are all as false
As stairs of sand, wear yet upon their chins
The beards of Hercules and frowning Mars;
Who, inward search'd, have livers white as milk;
And these assume but valour's excrement
To render them redoubted! Look on beauty,
And you shall see 'tis purchased by the weight;
Which therein works a miracle in nature,90
Making them lightest that wear most of it:
So are those crisped snaky golden locks
Which make such wanton gambols with the wind,
Upon supposed fairness, often known
To be the dowry of a second head,
The skull that bred them in the sepulchre.
Thus ornament is but the guiled shore
To a most dangerous sea; the beauteous scarf
Veiling an Indian beauty; in a word,
The seeming truth which cunning times put on100
To entrap the wisest. Therefore, thou gaudy gold,
Hard food for Midas, I will none of thee;
Nor none of thee, thou pale and common drudge
'Tween man and man: but thou, thou meagre lead,
Which rather threatenest than dost promise aught,
Thy paleness moves me more than eloquence;
And here choose I; joy be the consequence!
PORTIA[Aside] How all the other passions fleet to air,
As doubtful thoughts, and rash-embraced despair,
And shuddering fear, and green-eyed jealousy! O love,110
Be moderate; allay thy ecstasy,
In measure rein thy joy; scant this excess.
I feel too much thy blessing: make it less,
For fear I surfeit.
BASSANIOWhat find I here?
[Opening the leaden casket]
Fair Portia's counterfeit! What demi-god
Hath come so near creation? Move these eyes?
Or whether, riding on the balls of mine,
Seem they in motion? Here are sever'd lips,
Parted with sugar breath: so sweet a bar
Should sunder such sweet friends. Here in her hairs120
The painter plays the spider and hath woven
A golden mesh to entrap the hearts of men,
Faster than gnats in cobwebs; but her eyes,--
How could he see to do them? having made one,
Methinks it should have power to steal both his
And leave itself unfurnish'd. Yet look, how far
The substance of my praise doth wrong this shadow
In underprizing it, so far this shadow
Doth limp behind the substance. Here's the scroll,130
The continent and summary of my fortune.
You that choose not by the view,
Chance as fair and choose as true!
Since this fortune falls to you,
Be content and seek no new,
If you be well pleased with this
And hold your fortune for your bliss,
Turn you where your lady is
And claim her with a loving kiss.
A gentle scroll. Fair lady, by your leave;140
I come by note, to give and to receive.
Like one of two contending in a prize,
That thinks he hath done well in people's eyes,
Hearing applause and universal shout,
Giddy in spirit, still gazing in a doubt
Whether these pearls of praise be his or no;
So, thrice fair lady, stand I, even so;
As doubtful whether what I see be true,
Until confirm'd, sign'd, ratified by you.
PORTIAYou see me, Lord Bassanio, where I stand,
Such as I am: though for myself alone151
I would not be ambitious in my wish,
To wish myself much better; yet, for you
I would be trebled twenty times myself;
A thousand times more fair, ten thousand times more rich;
That only to stand high in your account,
I might in virtue, beauties, livings, friends,
Exceed account; but the full sum of me
Is sum of something, which, to term in gross,160
Is an unlesson'd girl, unschool'd, unpractised;
Happy in this, she is not yet so old
But she may learn; happier than this,
She is not bred so dull but she can learn;
Happiest of all is that her gentle spirit
Commits itself to yours to be directed,
As from her lord, her governor, her king.
Myself and what is mine to you and yours
Is now converted: but now I was the lord
Of this fair mansion, master of my servants,170
Queen o'er myself: and even now, but now,
This house, these servants and this same myself
Are yours, my lord: I give them with this ring;
Which when you part from, lose, or give away,
Let it presage the ruin of your love
And be my vantage to exclaim on you.
BASSANIOMadam, you have bereft me of all words,
Only my blood speaks to you in my veins;
And there is such confusion in my powers,
As after some oration fairly spoke180
By a beloved prince, there doth appear
Among the buzzing pleased multitude;
Where every something, being blent together,
Turns to a wild of nothing, save of joy,
Express'd and not express'd. But when this ring
Parts from this finger, then parts life from hence:
O, then be bold to say Bassanio's dead!
NERISSAMy lord and lady, it is now our time,
That have stood by and seen our wishes prosper,
To cry, good joy: good joy, my lord and lady!190
GRATIANOMy lord Bassanio and my gentle lady,
I wish you all the joy that you can wish;
For I am sure you can wish none from me:
And when your honours mean to solemnize
The bargain of your faith, I do beseech you,
Even at that time I may be married too.
BASSANIOWith all my heart, so thou canst get a wife.
GRATIANOI thank your lordship, you have got me one.
My eyes, my lord, can look as swift as yours:
You saw the mistress, I beheld the maid;200
You loved, I loved for intermission.
No more pertains to me, my lord, than you.
Your fortune stood upon the casket there,
And so did mine too, as the matter falls;
For wooing here until I sweat again,
And sweating until my very roof was dry
With oaths of love, at last, if promise last,
I got a promise of this fair one here
To have her love, provided that your fortune
Achieved her mistress.
PORTIAIs this true, Nerissa?210
NERISSAMadam, it is, so you stand pleased withal.
BASSANIOAnd do you, Gratiano, mean good faith?
GRATIANOYes, faith, my lord.
BASSANIOOur feast shall be much honour'd in your marriage.
GRATIANOWe'll play with them the first boy for a thousand ducats.
NERISSAWhat, and stake down?
GRATIANONo; we shall ne'er win at that sport, and stake down.
But who comes here? Lorenzo and his infidel? What,
and my old Venetian friend Salerio?220
[ Enter LORENZO, JESSICA, and SALERIO, a Messenger from Venice ]
BASSANIOLorenzo and Salerio, welcome hither;
If that the youth of my new interest here
Have power to bid you welcome. By your leave,
I bid my very friends and countrymen,
Sweet Portia, welcome.
PORTIASo do I, my lord:
They are entirely welcome.
LORENZOI thank your honour. For my part, my lord,
My purpose was not to have seen you here;230
But meeting with Salerio by the way,
He did entreat me, past all saying nay,
To come with him along.
SALERIOI did, my lord;
And I have reason for it. Signior Antonio
Commends him to you.
[Gives Bassanio a letter]
BASSANIOEre I ope his letter,
I pray you, tell me how my good friend doth.
SALERIONot sick, my lord, unless it be in mind;
Nor well, unless in mind: his letter there
Will show you his estate.
GRATIANONerissa, cheer yon stranger; bid her welcome.240
Your hand, Salerio: what's the news from Venice?
How doth that royal merchant, good Antonio?
I know he will be glad of our success;
We are the Jasons, we have won the fleece.
SALERIOI would you had won the fleece that he hath lost.
PORTIAThere are some shrewd contents in yon same paper,
That steals the colour from Bassanio's cheek:
Some dear friend dead; else nothing in the world
Could turn so much the constitution
Of any constant man. What, worse and worse!
With leave, Bassanio: I am half yourself,251
And I must freely have the half of anything
That this same paper brings you.
BASSANIOO sweet Portia,
Here are a few of the unpleasant'st words
That ever blotted paper! Gentle lady,
When I did first impart my love to you,
I freely told you, all the wealth I had
Ran in my veins, I was a gentleman;
And then I told you true: and yet, dear lady,
Rating myself at nothing, you shall see260
How much I was a braggart. When I told you
My state was nothing, I should then have told you
That I was worse than nothing; for, indeed,
I have engaged myself to a dear friend,
Engaged my friend to his mere enemy,
To feed my means. Here is a letter, lady;
The paper as the body of my friend,
And every word in it a gaping wound,
Issuing life-blood. But is it true, Salerio?
Have all his ventures fail'd? What, not one hit?
From Tripolis, from Mexico and England,271
From Lisbon, Barbary and India?
And not one vessel 'scape the dreadful touch
Of merchant-marring rocks?
SALERIONot one, my lord.
Besides, it should appear, that if he had
The present money to discharge the Jew,
He would not take it. Never did I know
A creature, that did bear the shape of man,
So keen and greedy to confound a man:
He plies the duke at morning and at night,
And doth impeach the freedom of the state,280
If they deny him justice: twenty merchants,
The duke himself, and the magnificoes
Of greatest port, have all persuaded with him;
But none can drive him from the envious plea
Of forfeiture, of justice and his bond.
JESSICAWhen I was with him I have heard him swear
To Tubal and to Chus, his countrymen,
That he would rather have Antonio's flesh
Than twenty times the value of the sum
That he did owe him: and I know, my lord,290
If law, authority and power deny not,
It will go hard with poor Antonio.
PORTIAIs it your dear friend that is thus in trouble?
BASSANIOThe dearest friend to me, the kindest man,
The best-condition'd and unwearied spirit
In doing courtesies, and one in whom
The ancient Roman honour more appears
Than any that draws breath in Italy.
PORTIAWhat sum owes he the Jew?
BASSANIOFor me three thousand ducats.
PORTIAWhat, no more?300
Pay him six thousand, and deface the bond;
Double six thousand, and then treble that,
Before a friend of this description
Shall lose a hair through Bassanio's fault.
First go with me to church and call me wife,
And then away to Venice to your friend;
For never shall you lie by Portia's side
With an unquiet soul. You shall have gold
To pay the petty debt twenty times over:
When it is paid, bring your true friend along.310
My maid Nerissa and myself meantime
Will live as maids and widows. Come, away!
For you shall hence upon your wedding-day:
Bid your friends welcome, show a merry cheer:
Since you are dear bought, I will love you dear.
But let me hear the letter of your friend.
BASSANIO[Reads] Sweet Bassanio, my ships have all
miscarried, my creditors grow cruel, my estate is
very low, my bond to the Jew is forfeit; and since
in paying it, it is impossible I should live, all320
debts are cleared between you and I, if I might but
see you at my death. Notwithstanding, use your
pleasure: if your love do not persuade you to come,
let not my letter.
PORTIAO love, dispatch all business, and be gone!
BASSANIOSince I have your good leave to go away,
I will make haste: but, till I come again,
No bed shall e'er be guilty of my stay,
No rest be interposer 'twixt us twain.

Next: The Merchant of Venice, Act 3, Scene 3

Explanatory Notes for Act 3, Scene 2
From The Merchant of Venice. Ed. Felix E. Schelling. New York: American Book Co.

Much has happened since the departure of Bassanio. At Belmont the stately Prince of Morocco has made his choice and failed, and the solemn Arragon has followed with no better fate. In Venice Shylock, maddened by his double loss, has raged through the streets, a rabble of boys at his heels, and Tubal has had time to search for the runaways as far as Genoa and back. Rumors, too, of Antonio's losses on distant seas are reported at Venice. On the other hand, although Portia's words, - those of a maiden more than half won, - preclude our thinking of Bassanio as exactly "fresh from Venice" on the opening of this scene, such impetuosity as his, for he "lives upon the rack," we feel cannot have permitted a long postponement of his choice, and we are lured away from the thought of Tubal's search and a rumor slowly making its way across the continent of Europe from Goodwin Sands to the contemplation of a lapse of time that could not have exceeded a few days. Compare with this the concluding note on Act II, Scene VI.

In the present scene Portia desires Bassanio to "tarry" for fear he choose wrong; but Bassanio is impatient to know his fate, and choosing the leaden casket finds therein "fair Portia's counterfeit." Portia is thus doubly won, by the terms of her father's will and by the promptings of her own heart. Meanwhile Gratiano has gained Nerissa to consent to marry him if Bassanio's choice shall prove fortunate. So that both couples are happy in Bassanio's success. At this moment, the climax of the story of the caskets, Lorenzo and Jessica arrive with a messenger from Venice by whom it appears that all of Antonio's ventures by sea have failed, his bond has been forfeited, and he lies in prison awaiting the supreme exaction of the Jew.

2. in [the event of your] choosing wrong.

7-10. Portia is anxious that Bassanio may not choose hastily. She is deeply in love with him, but "yet a maiden hath no tongue but thoughts" [i.e. it becomes her not to tell him so]; and she wishes simply to detain him, at first a day or two, which rises in her eagerness to a month or two. But she is equally concerned lest Bassanio mistake her attitude for an unmaidenly declaration of love.

14. Beshrew, a very mild imprecation, "Woe to your eyes."

20, 21. These lines, which offer an excellent illustration of the extreme pregnancy of Shakespeare's thought, have been explained: "If it prove that I, who am yours by affection, am not yours owing to your unlucky choice of casket, Fortune ought to suffer the penalty, not I; and yet to lose you will be hell for me."

29. fear [for] the enjoying, doubt if I shall enjoy.

30, 31. There may ... as [between] treason and my love.

35. 'Confess' and 'love,' love is the sum total of my confession.

44. swan-like end, in allusion to the popular belief that the swan sings before its death. Shakespeare is fond of the allusion; see Othello, v. 2. 247; and King John, v. 7. 21.

49. The moment of crowning an English sovereign is heralded by a flourish of trumpets. Some critics have sought to date this play, 1594, because of this, a supposed allusion to the crowning of Henry of Navarre in that year.

52. The bridegroom was thus awakened by the musicians engaged to accompany him to the bride's house.

55. young Alcides. Hercules rescued Hesione who, as a virgin tribute to appease the wrath of Neptune, had been chained to a rock by her father, Laomedon, to be devoured by a sea-monster. But Bassanio approaches his perilous undertaking with much more love [line 54], because Hercules was urged to his exploit not for love of the lady, but for the horses which Laomedon had promised him. The whole similitude in which Bassanio is likened to young Alcides, Portia to Hesione, the virgin tribute, and Portia's attendants to the Dardanian wives [women, the descendants of Dardanus, the ancestor of the Trojans], is full of the spirit of Greek story.

61. Live thou [if thou live], I live. The subjunctive is not infrequently indicated by placing the verb before its subject. The line is perfectly metrical without doubling the word much.

63. fancy is often synonymous with love. See Much Ado About Nothing, iii. 2. 31-32. Here, however, fancy is affection bred by the sight; and neither the product of the heart nor the head. Did Portia unconsciously break her oath in providing that this song be sung? Or did Nerissa? She had openly praised Bassanio (i. 2. 129-131). The maid in one of Shakespeare's possible sources, Il Pecarone, gave the lover a hint.

73. the outward shows [of things] be least [like the things] themselves.

82. his, the old neuter of the possessive pronoun it or hit. Its is found only toward the end of the sixteenth century. Its appears in no work of Shakespeare's published in his lifetime, although the form occurs ten times in the folio, usually in the spelling it's.

86. livers white as milk. Compare 2 Henry IV. iv. 3. 113: "The liver white and pale, which is the badge of pusillanimity and cowardice."

87. excrement, a word often applied to the hair. See The Winter's Tale, iv. 4. 733: "Let me pocket up my pedler's excrement. [ Takes off his false beard.]"

88. beauty, that is, mere beauty. Notice the usual Shakespearean play on the words weight and light.

92-96. those crisped snaky golden locks ... bred ... in the sepulchre. Shakespeare expresses much the same thought in Sonnet lxviii. The fashion among women of wearing wigs had become very common toward the end of Elizabeth's reign.

94. Upon supposed fairness, "on the strength of their fictitious beauty." Compare 3 Henry VI, iii. 3. 223: "And tell false Edward, thy supposed king."

99. an Indian beauty, a woman that an Indian might consider a beauty.

102. Midas, the foolish Phrygian king, who asked that everything that he touched might be turned to gold; and, his wish granted, nearly perished of hunger.

106. paleness, as Bassanio has already called silver pale, plainness has been suggested as the right reading, thus bringing out a contrast with eloquence. As, however, lead is frequently described as pale, this reading of all the old editions should be preserved.

109. As, such as, as namely.

112. rain thy joy. Compare 1 Henry IV, v. 1. 47: "It rain'd down fortune showering on your head." Rein is an inferior reading.

117. Or whether. Whether is sometimes used after or where we should omit one of the two. Compare Coriolanus, i. 3. 69: "Or whether his fall enraged him, or how 'twas."

120. hairs. Used in the plural in Shakespeare's day. Compare King John, iii. 4. 66: "Bind up your hairs."

124. having made one. We expect a verb agreeing with this clause to follow; but in the hurry of Bassanio's rapturous speech the construction is not carried out. Such examples of colloquial phraseology in Shakespeare, far from being blemishes, add greatly to the dramatic quality of his dialogue.

126. unfurnished, unmatched with its fellow eye.

126, 128. how far ... so far, in modern English as ... so.

140. Notice how Bassanio's delight and exaltation of spirit at his success is expressed in the continuance after the "scroll" of rhyming lines; and how Portia's succeeding lines, in their deep seriousness, drop back into blank verse.

141. I come by note [in accordance with the scroll or warrant just read] to give [a kiss] and to receive [you, the lady].

145. Broken as this line is, it is not unmetrical; spirit may have been pronounced as one syllable.

160. sum of - nothing. Preferable to the reading something, of equally good authority, because it conforms more with the negations (unlesson'd, unschool'd, unpractised) that follow, and is more in accord with the careless, happy depreciation of herself which characterizes Portia's whole speech.

162. Happy in this. The old editions all read "Happiest is this," explained by regarding Happiest as neuter, the happiest of all is (it or this), etc. The emendation in preserves the construction; happy in this ... happier than this ... happiest of all in, etc.

173. this ring. The giving of a ring as a token of fidelity is of frequent occurrence in the old drama. See Romeo and Juliet, iii. 2. 142. The employment of the device of the episode of Portia's ring to lighten the gravity of the ending of this comedy is one of the happiest examples of Shakespeare's consummate dramatic skill.

176. vantage, the position of one who is master of the situation. To exclaim on one is to complain of one's conduct. For vantage, see Hamlet, v. 2. 401; for exclaim on, see 1 Henry VI, v. 3. 134.

185. Express'd and not express'd, expressed in inarticulate sounds.

193. none from me, none different from me, none which I do not wish you.

200. the maid. Nerissa was in no respect a servant. She was doubtless as well born, though not as rich, as Portia herself; and bore the same relation of friendship and companionship to Portia that Gratiano, a gentleman by birth, bore to his friend Bassanio.

214. shall be, in modern English will be.

223. A question has been raised as to why Jessica receives no welcome from Portia. This is only apparent. General salutations between the two parties take place while Bassanio is speaking; but the importance of Lorenzo's message to Bassanio usurps the place which mere courtesies might otherwise occupy. Portia being engaged in the interest which Antonio's letter excites, Gratiano (in line 240) calls Nerissa to the charge of Jessica.

232. past all saying nay, beyond the possibility of refusal.

240-253. The dialogue of these lines is carried on while Bassanio is reading Antonio's letter.

242. royal, a term applied to the wealthy and powerful Italian merchants who aided kingdoms with their funds, and often held mortgages on them. The Medici and the Pozzi in Italy, the Fuggers in Germany, and Sir Thomas Gresham in England were merchants of this type. The term here conveys no more than a complimentary allusion to Antonio's wealth.

252. And I must freely have the half of anything, an Alexandrine line, scan it how we will. There is no reason why we should not acknowledge frankly that, intentionally or inadvertently, Shakespeare frequently uses the Alexandrine in single lines in his dramatic verse.

275. it should appear. This use of shall is much like the German sollen, which means is to and not quite ought.

280. And doth impeach the freedom of the state, denies that those, like himself not natives of Venice, have equal rights there if, etc. See below, iv. 1. 38: "If you deny it, let the danger light Upon your charter and your city's freedom."

282. magnificoes, the chief men of Venice were so called.

295. unwearied, that is most unwearied, the superlative is communicated from the words kindest and best-condition'd. Compare above, ii. 1. 46: "To make me blest or cursed'st among men."

304. thorough, through, as often spelled.

315. Since you are dear bought [with all the anxiety that I have suffered while your fate as a suitor hung in the balance].

321. between you and I. This is so common as to amount to an Elizabethan idiom. Compare above, ii. 6. 30. None of the old copies indicate that Bassanio reads this letter, and yet, as Portia asks to "hear the letter of your friend," the assignment of the reading to Bassanio seems proper. Dr. Furness finely suggests that Bassanio read until the words, "If I might see you at my death," and his voice failing him from emotion, that Portia finish the reading, and passionately add without pause: "O love, despatch all business and be gone!"

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) < >.

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