The Merchant of Venice

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Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Simon & Schuster edition of The Merchant of Venice published in 2009.
Act 1, scene 1 Quotes
In sooth, I know not why I am so sad.
Related Characters: Antonio (speaker)
Page Number: 1.1.1
Explanation and Analysis:

The merchant Antionio begins this play, just as Portia will begin the following scene, by expressing sadness. Although Portia's sadness is easier to explain -- she is not truly weary of the world in general, but is tired of being pursued by suitors, who must follow her father's test in order to try for her heart -- Antiono's sadness is more inexplicable. He protests, to his friends, that he is not worried about his ships, which are spreading his wealth abroad (and would sink his wealth if they are ruined). He claims that he is not pining for love, either. We might blame other characters of the play -- the villain Skylock or Antonio's friend Bassanio -- for Antonio's sadness, but ultimately Antonio's emotions remain enigmatic as the play continues. They provide a fitting backdrop for this comedy, though; this melancholy opening puts a stale pallor over the action of the play, which can only be removed as characters form new social bonds or receive new material goods (or, occasionally, experience both of these processes together).


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I hold the world but as the world, Gratiano—
A stage, where every man must play a part;
And mine a sad one.
Related Characters: Antonio (speaker), Gratiano
Page Number: 1.1.81-83
Explanation and Analysis:

This is not our famous "All the world's a stage" moment in Shakespeare's "As You Like It;" it only briefly presents the view that men occupy different roles and does not present the seven general stages of a man's life. This statement is, however, an apt method of describing the broader pallor of emptiness which Antonio (who is the titular Merchant of Venice) introduces to the play's opening. According to this personal perspective, every individual "must play a part"; some must win, some must lose. The world is "but as the world," a bland reality that lacks imaginative possibilities, and, every man has "a part." Antonio is an individual, but he is also interpreted in association with other parts and is made up of a combination of various social, racial, ethnic, and religious categories. Tensions between these categories will develop as the play continues.

In my school-days, when I had lost one shaft,
I shot his fellow of the selfsame flight
The selfsame way, with more advised watch,
To find the other forth; and by adventuring both,
I oft found both.
Related Characters: Bassanio (speaker)
Page Number: 1.1.140-144
Explanation and Analysis:

Before Bassanio explains his desire to pursue Portia as a suitor, he discusses his pre-existing debts to his friend Antonio. Bassanio already owes Antonio (and others) a fair sum of money and gratitude, but he is about to ask for additional monetary assistance. Although Antonio will not withhold his money, and will be quite generous because of his friendship, Bassanio still provides an analogy that might convince Antonio to lend him money. Bassanio references how, once he lost an arrow, he would often shoot another arrow and more carefully watch the second arrow's flight, in order to find both arrows at once. Bassanio suggests that he will do the same with money; by paying more attention to the way he spends new loans, he will be able to repay his old and new debts to Antonio.

Act 1, scene 2 Quotes
They are as sick that surfeit with too much, as they that starve with nothing.
Related Characters: Nerissa (speaker)
Page Number: 1.2.5-6
Explanation and Analysis:

Nerissa, Portia's servant and companion, provides this saying while she is discussing Portia's downcast emotions. After Nerissa mentions that Portia is blessed with an abundance of gifts, she gives this adage and reminder that too much material wealth can be as unfortunate as too little. This also serves as a warning against greed; the lust to accumulate more wealth and possessions can be as damaging as these possessions themselves, as the character Skylock will demonstrate through his avarice.

With these blunt words, Nerissa seems to offer her lady a similar sort of "economic" friendship as Antonio's friends have provided him. This underscores the importance of such fraternal bonds in The Merchant of Venice, which only develops its plot because a merchant is willing to share his wealth with another, in friendship.

When he is best, he is a little worse than a man; and when he is worst, he is little better than a beast.
Related Characters: Portia (speaker)
Page Number: 1.2.88-89
Explanation and Analysis:

As Portia and her handmaiden Nerissa discuss many of the suitors which are striving to marry her, Portia does not attempt to fabricate her opinions with any false positivity or pretense. She even compares the Duke of Saxony's nephew (one of her suitors) to an animal, introducing this play's focus on human and animal categories, and the arbitrary way we can decide who and who isn't a "man" or a "beast." Portia's suitors represent many of the world's ethnicities, races, and nations; in her opinions towards these men, we first see the stereotyping and classification that will pervade the play's action. 

I dote on his very absence.
Related Characters: Portia (speaker), Bassanio
Page Number: 1.2.300
Explanation and Analysis:

After detailing her many suitors, and revealing her dislike of their behaviors and appearances, Portia declares to Nerissa that she will remain chaste as the goddess Diana, unless one of her suitors manages to win her in the way her father ordered before his death. Portia claims "I dote on his very absence," in reference to all of her potential suitors. 

Yet, after Portia makes this extravagant claim, Nerissa reminds her of Bassanio; surely Bassanio was deserving, according to Nerissa. Portia does indeed remember Bassanio, and agrees that he was the suitor she preferred most. We thus begin to see a possible relief from the play's current aura of banality and absence.

Act 1, scene 3 Quotes
I will buy with you, sell with you, talk with you, walk with you, and so following; but I will not eat with you, drink with you, nor pray with you.
Related Characters: Shylock (speaker), Bassanio
Page Number: 1.3.35-38
Explanation and Analysis:
Shylock utters these words during his first interaction with Antonio and Bassanio in the play, an interaction which reveals how complicated a figure Shylock will become in The Merchant of Venice. He will have more pitiful moments like this, despite his more general role as antagonist who seems to literally seek Antonio's flesh and blood. Here, as Shylock describes the rules he follows as he interacts with society, he also expresses the categorical isolation he feels as a member of the Jewish community, who is largely excluded from social aspects within the Christian Venice. He can participate in the public space of the marketplace and engage in commerce (and "buy," "sell," and "walk" with others), but he cannot (or will not) enter the more intimate spaces (to engage in worship or participate in meals). Here, though, Shylock is delivering these words in a public street; we cannot be sure whether he is accurately describing his own feelings of isolation, or merely harnessing this social reality to suit his needs in this conversation. 
The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose.
Related Characters: Antonio (speaker), Shylock
Page Number: 1.3.107
Explanation and Analysis:

As Antonio strives to procure a loan from Shylock, and Shylock displays the full force of his animosity, Antonio does not restrain himself from denigrating Shylock -- even as "the devil." Of course, Antonio is here providing a general saying, but the thinly veiled implication is that Shylock is functioning as the devilish figure in this interaction. Antonio has, at other occasions, more directly spat on Shylock or referred to him as a dog, so this wording is perhaps unsurprising. 

It also, though, emphasizes the extent to which the Jewish and Christian communities in this play isolate themselves from each other theologically. The devil is the common enemy of both religious traditions, but in this colloquial saying, Antonio is associating Shylock with the devil.

Many a time and oft
In the Rialto you have rated me
About my moneys and my usances:
Still I have borne it with a patient shrug,
For sufferance is the badge of all our tribe.
You call me misbeliever, cut-throat dog,
And spit upon my Jewish gaberdine,
And all for use of that which is mine own.
Related Characters: Shylock (speaker), Antonio
Page Number: 1.3.116-123
Explanation and Analysis:

As in many other moments of The Merchant of Venice, Shylock here describes the type of prejudice and discrimination that he faces, and that "all our tribe" faces, in Venice. Yet here Shylock also explains that the very individuals who denigrate him as a "misbeliever" or "cut-throat dog," also use him as a money-lender, borrowing his own funds -- "that which is mine own." Shylock exposes the unfortunate contradiction that Venetians mistreat the individuals whom they need, the money-lenders who fulfill an essential and respectable function in society. The injustices he lists here also serve to make Shylock a more complex character -- one who is portrayed as a caricatural villain, but who has possibly been made that way by the prejudice of a "Christian" society.

Let the forfeit
Be nominated for an equal pound
Of your fair flesh, to be cut off and taken
In what part of your body pleaseth me.
Related Characters: Shylock (speaker), Antonio
Page Number: 1.3.160-163
Explanation and Analysis:

While Shylock is bartering with Antonio and Bassanio in order to arrange their new loan, he decides to ask for an unusual form of repayment, should Antonio default on the loan: a pound of Antonio's flesh. This strange request captures the way that human actors are intrinsically associated with their financial means in this play, but it also provides a platform for subsequent reflections on honesty (would Antonio truly allow his blood to be spilt over a legal agreement?), mercy (might Shylock be overcome with mercy shortly before he would witness Antonio become injured), and violence (would this act of violence be enough to satiate Shylock's lust for revenge)? 

Act 2, scene 1 Quotes
Mislike me not for my complexion,
The shadow'd livery of the burnish'd sun.
Related Characters: Prince of Morocco (speaker), Portia
Page Number: 2.1.1-2
Explanation and Analysis:

The Prince of Morocco's first words to Portia are an earnest request to refrain from judging his physical appearance -- specifically, his dark "complexion," the physical aspect tied to racial and social categorization. He has clearly faced prejudice and dehumanization before, and so immediately apologizes for himself in the face of society's disapproval. But although the prince begins with this entreaty, he will adopt a more defensive and affirmative stance by the end of his speech: "I would not change this hue, / Except to steal your thoughts, my gentle queen." Here, the prince echoes Skylock's conflicting confidence and concerns over discrimination, suggesting that this process of adapting to stereotyping extends through the play's different forms of categorization and separation.


Act 2, scene 6 Quotes
All things that are,
Are with more spirit chased than enjoy'd.
Related Characters: Gratiano (speaker)
Page Number: 2.6.13-14
Explanation and Analysis:

Gratiano and Salarino converse as they wait for Lorenzo. Although Bassanio initially (in the play's first scene) commented that Gratiano tends to speak "an infinite deal of nothing," here Gratiano seems to arrive at a universal truth: individuals are more attracted to phenomena (or, in Gratiano's words, "all things that are,") while they are still pursuing them. People and objects become less fascinating once they are attained. This certainly applies to lovers -- particularly because the lovers Lorenzo and Jessica are about to appear onto the stage -- but also has relevance for financial and material pursuits. This fleeting comment calls into question all of the striving and seeking (for a lover, for a reputation, for greater material or financial well-being) that occurs throughout The Merchant of Venice.  

But love is blind, and lovers cannot see
The pretty follies that themselves commit.
Related Characters: Jessica (speaker)
Page Number: 2.6.37-38
Explanation and Analysis:

When Lorenzo comes to Jessica, Shylock's daughter and his beloved, they have a brief conversation before Jessica gathers the rest of her belongings and joins him in their elopement. Jessica is disguised as a boy, and she claims she is grateful that Lorenzo does not see her in such a strange costume. During this conversation, she also more abstractly comments that "love is blind" -- a statement that is not literally true in Belmont, where Portia has certainly noticed her suitors' appearances and ethnicities (although it could be argued that this is because she doesn't truly love them). Yet, lovers are, indeed, often unaware of "pretty follies that themselves commit." In this very play we will observe several instances where lovers are unaware of the tricks and devices which their lover plays on them. 

Act 2, scene 7 Quotes
All that glisters is not gold.
Related Characters: Prince of Morocco (speaker)
Related Symbols: Stones, Rings, and Caskets
Page Number: 2.7.73
Explanation and Analysis:

As the Prince of Morocco opens the golden casket during his pursuit of Portia's hand in marriage, he uncovers the already common saying "All that glisters is not gold" (which was earlier expressed by Chaucer, among other writers). This trite warning against greed seems out of place at Belmont, where Portia's wealthy father has left her an expansive and an incredible quantity of money. It reminds us of this play's tension between love and the ownership of property -- a tension which Antonio faced in the first scene, when he decided to forsake his own property out of love for Bassanio (and to let his friend Bassanio hopefully win Portia's love and Portia's property, through Antonio's love and property). 

This warning against greed is written on a scroll within the casket, and this casket is the first of many objects to be associated with writing. Though the casket itself is a golden expression of wealth, the words written within it also make it an expression of love. Portia's father likely included the golden casket to prevent suitors from winning over Portia out of their desire for her inheritance. Gy forbidding suitors who chose the golden casket from attaining Portia through marriage, Portia's father protects his daughter through his writing. 

Act 3, scene 1 Quotes
If it will feed nothing else, it will feed my revenge.
Related Characters: Shylock (speaker), Antonio
Page Number: 3.1.52-53
Explanation and Analysis:

Salarino claims to be "sure" that Shylock will not take Antonio's flesh because there is no clear use for Antonio's skin and blood (as Salarino implies with his blunt question "what's that good for?"). Shylock glibly comments that Antonio's flesh could be used to "bait fish," before he more directly claims that Antonio's flesh would "feed my revenge." It would allow Shylock to finally avenge the way that Antonio and others mistreat him (and other members of the Jewish community). By claiming that acts of vengeance would "feed" his revenge, Shylock implies that revenge is a natural human desire, like sexual desire or physical hunger -- and it is sated not by anything technically "useful," but only by inflicting more pain and spreading one's bitterness to others.

I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? Fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that.
Related Characters: Shylock (speaker)
Page Number: 3.1.57-67
Explanation and Analysis:

In the street, Shylock converses with Salanio and Salarino. He discusses his daughter Jessica's sudden leaving, and Salarino asks whether Antonio has lost his wealth at sea, from shipwrecks. Shylock comments that he will indeed seek a pound of Antonio's flesh if Antonio cannot repay his debt. After Salarino expresses his surprise, asking how Shylock could actually use Antonio's flesh for any purpose, Shylock quickly replies that Antonio's flesh could bait fish -- and suit his lust for revenge. Shylock describes that he has a drive for revenge, as any other individual supposedly does, and then gives us this famous declaration that Jewish individuals are largely the same as any others. 

This plea for the Jewish people is thereby inscribed within Shylock's lust for revenge, and should not be taken out of context. Although The Merchant of Venice does certainly include Shylock's passionate defenses of himself and of his people, this message against stereotypes is tainted by its association with Shylock's individual bloodthirsty personality. The play does not form a clear platform for crying out against anti-Semitism, although it certainly depicts the prejudice that confronts a people of individuals, which perhaps unfortunately includes Shylock.

The villainy you teach me I will execute, and it shall go hard, but I will better the instruction.
Related Characters: Shylock (speaker)
Page Number: 3.1.70-72
Explanation and Analysis:
As Shylock closes his defense of his behavior, and his larger declaration that Jewish and Christian peoples are not as different as they seem to be in Venice, he claims that he has learned his lust for greed and revenge from the Christian individuals who have so mistreated him. He suggests that his own behavior is a reaction to the intolerance which he has faced and which he is currently confronting. He alludes to the fact that Venice's current social currents have been prefaced by prior stigmatization and discrimination, and this perspective certainly makes him a more complicated and sympathetic character than he may have initially appeared to be. 
Act 3, scene 2 Quotes
If he lose, he makes a swan-like end,
Fading in music.
Related Characters: Portia (speaker), Bassanio
Page Number: 3.2.46-47
Explanation and Analysis:

While Bassanio chooses between the lead, silver, and gold caskets to hopefully win Portia, Portia leads other members of her household in song, which will either provide Bassanio with "a swan-like end, / Fading with music" or will surround Bassanio's victory with appropriate fanfare. In this play, music will reappear in the context of Lorenzo and Jessica's moonlit love; music serves as an indicator of feelings which require a higher register in order to be truly expressed. Portia also relies on animal imagery, which reappears to either further denigrate characters such as Shylock or further elevate figures such as her ideal suitor Bassanio.

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 knell;
I'll begin it – Ding, dong, bell.
Related Characters: Portia (speaker)
Page Number: 3.2.65-73
Explanation and Analysis:

The song which Portia leads, while Bassanio is pondering and making his voice between the three caskets, is appropriately focused on true love, or "fancy." According to the song's words, love begins with visual cues or  "in the eyes" -- which the Prince of Morocco knew as well, when he urged Portia to refrain from judging him based on his appearance (as he knew she was apt to do). Besides the song's content, the mere fact that Portia is fostering this music confirms that Bassanio is her suitor of choice; we are inclined to compare Portia's reaction to his suit to her earlier reactions to prior suitors, and we can measure the extent of her approval by this comparison.

There is no vice so simple but assumes
Some mark of virtue in his outward parts.
Related Characters: Bassanio (speaker)
Page Number: 3.2.83-84
Explanation and Analysis:

As Bassanio chooses between the gold, silver, and lead caskets, he delivers an ornate speech about the deceptive nature of ornament -- in fields as diverse as law, religion, and beauty. In doing so, he connects these separate topics which resurface throughout the play, emphasizing the importance of substance over style. He interprets the caskets correctly, or as Portia's father would, at least, and and will choose the appropriate casket as he rejects "gaudy gold" in favor of "meagre lead." Of course, he is still drawn to Portia's beauty, and his speech is delivered with a sheen of eloquence, so the content of his speech is not entirely convincing, especially in this play which is otherwise occupied with wealth and disguises.  

Act 4, scene 1 Quotes
I am a tainted wether of the flock,
Meetest for death: the weakest kind of fruit
Drops earliest to the ground.
Related Characters: Antonio (speaker)
Page Number: 4.1.116-118
Explanation and Analysis:

When Antonio hears that his ships, and therefore his wealth, has been destroyed at sea, he delivers a seemingly Biblical description of himself as the "tinted wether of the flock" who is destined for death. Here, he describes himself using animal symbolism (a wether is a castrated male sheep), denigrating himself as he has earlier denigrated Shylock on so many occasions. Shylock here is in the position of authority, as the language of Antonio's defeat suggests. Finally, Antonio is no longer in a position of power, and we might guess, along with Antonio, that Shylock will take advantage of this new situation and make good on his desire to get revenge over Antonio.

I never knew so young a body with so old a head.
Related Characters: Duke of Venice (speaker), Portia
Page Number: 4.1.164-165
Explanation and Analysis:

In his letter to the court's judge, Doctor Bellario describes the young lawyer who will be replacing him. This lawyer is Portia in disguise-- a fact which the audience can realize but Bassanio and the rest of the court cannot. This description of Portia, then, deals with multiple layers of deception; it is associated with Portia's deception as a male lawyer and this supposed disguise of wisdom and maturity within a young body. 

In the crucial court scene, Portia will indeed live up to this weighty description; she delivers an eloquent, passionate speech about the power of mercy and also manages to use details of law and reason to spare Antonio's life. She lives up to the disguise she is inhabiting, temporarily transforming into an accomplished lawyer when the opportunity presents itself to her.

Which is the merchant here, and which the Jew?
Related Characters: Portia (speaker), Shylock, Antonio
Page Number: 4.1.176
Explanation and Analysis:

As Portia is pretending to be a young lawyer, she asks one of the most simple yet central questions of he play: who is the Jew, and who is the merchant? This suggests that Jews are so defined by their religious and ethnic identities that their Jewishness obfuscates their professional roles; thus, we see the play's prejudices. More broadly, though, this moment captures the importance of societal functions in constructing an individual's identity. A person's identity is always somewhat questionable and ambiguous because it only exists in relation to other phenomena and systems of exchange larger than any one person. Arguably, Shylock is only the dehumanized "Jew" because society has forced him to play that role, while Antonio has been able to inhabit the more socially-approved role of "merchant."

The quality of mercy is not strain'd,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
'T is mightiest in the mightiest: it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown;
His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
But mercy is above this sceptred sway,
It is enthroned in the hearts of kings,
It is an attribute to God himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God's,
When mercy seasons justice. Therefore, Jew,
Though justice be thy plea, consider this,
That in the course of justice none of us
Should see salvation: we do pray for mercy;
And that same prayer doth teach us all to render
The deeds of mercy.
Related Characters: Portia (speaker), Shylock
Page Number: 4.1.190-208
Explanation and Analysis:

Portia's eloquent speech describing and lauding the benefits of mercy extends beyond this theme to other notions which appear and reappear throughout the play. Here, in the courtroom, this speech is not exactly a defense of Antonio according to Venetian law; it instead transgresses into religious territory. It raises questions about public versus private duties, religious salvation versus worldly justice, Old Testament versus New Testament ideals, and antagonistic relationships versus social cohabitation. Yet Portia's speech addresses so many other concerns because it almost entirely consists of abstractions. Thus it's not surprising that Portia's words don't even begin to appease Shylock's lust for revenge, or his specific desire to attain a piece of Antonio's physical body.

My deeds upon my head! I crave the law,
The penalty and forfeit of my bond.
Related Characters: Shylock (speaker)
Page Number: 4.1.213-214
Explanation and Analysis:

Shylock is the first to respond to Portia's famous speech about the benefits of mercy. As Shylock advocates that Antonio's flesh should indeed be cut, he justifies his desire by appealing to "the law." As he disguises his craving for revenge as a case of "I crave the law," he suggests the connection between volatile personal emotions and the authoritative, ever impersonal realm of the law. Shylock specifically longs for "the forfeit of my bond." He also elicits questions of ownership and possession; Shylock had a legal claim to Antonio's flesh -- the skin that only physically belongs to Antonio. 

Nay, take my life and all; pardon not that:
You take my house when you do take the prop
That doth sustain my house; you take my life
When you do take the means whereby I live.
Related Characters: Shylock (speaker)
Page Number: 4.1.390-393
Explanation and Analysis:

Once the Duke has declared that half of Shylock's wealth will go to Antonio and the other half will go to the state, Shylock, in his dismay, provides a powerful description of the connection between one's life and one's wealth. He claims that his property sustains his life, so taking his property is the same as taking his life. Similarly, for Shylock, his wealth sustains his property, so an individual takes his property by taking his wealth. Here, Shylock articulates an indirect but powerful link between his life and his wealth, a direct correspondence which is not surprising given Shylock's generally greedy nature and concern with material possessions. Yet, after Shylock utters this statement, Portia immediately asks Antonio what "mercy" he might render Shylock, continuing to insert the notion of mercy into the courtroom even while simultaneously doling out arguably cruel, unmerciful punishments to Shylock. 

Act 5, scene 1 Quotes
The man that hath no music in himself,
Nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds,
Is fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils;
The motions of his spirit are dull as night,
And his affections dark as Erebus.
Let no such man be trusted.
Related Characters: Lorenzo (speaker)
Page Number: 5.1.92-97
Explanation and Analysis:

After musicians play for the lovers Jessica and Lorenzo, Lorenzo declares that people who are not moved by music are the worst kind, the kind who deserve the worst that others have to offer them ("treasons, stratagems, and spoils"). This exclamation does more than just continue to reflect on the properties of music, and music's associations with love and goodness; it invites questions about who might deserve violence, and why. Does one deserve violence for being an intrinsically malignant individual, a character such as Shylock who is unmoved by others' pleas? Or, does one deserve such negative consequences for specific actions, for breaking specific agreements? This play raises questions about who should be culpable, and why, but does not answer them -- even the relatively virtuous Bassanio and Gratiano (as well as Portia and Nerissa) break promises to their respective lovers.

We will answer all things faithfully.
Related Characters: Portia (speaker)
Page Number: 5.1.321
Explanation and Analysis:

Now that Portia and Nerissa have revealed their deception, Portia assumes that Bassanio and Gratiano are likely unsatisfied by their explanations thus far. So she urges them to go in, so that they may begin interrogating her and Nerissa.

Here, Portia promises to be faithful in her answers about "all things." She seems to have quickly forgotten how Bassanio and Gratiano were themselves unfaithful when they gave away their rings at the courthouse, despite their prior vows to Portia and Nerissa that they would never part from these rings. We are left, at the play's end, with a promise for full disclosure in the future. This provides a fitting end to our beginning, when Antonio's sadness was unexplained and unclear. Now that these relationships have formed over the course of the play, they can perhaps begin to remove the secrecy and unrevealed nature of characters' internal experiences -- although these relationships themselves are framed by such uncertainty, because of their connections to Portia and Nerissa's rings, and any clarity must necessarily occur off the stage, beyond the edges of the play's artificial world. 

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