The Merchant of Venice

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Stones, Rings, and Caskets Symbol Analysis

Stones, Rings, and Caskets Symbol Icon
When Shylock raves about the "stones" that Jessica has stolen from him, part of the joke is that in the Renaissance "stones" was a slang word for the testicles. And indeed Shylock's only child's renouncing her father, eloping, and converting to Christianity is symbolically tantamount to castrating him, cutting off his family name. Multiple characters undergo kinds of symbolic castration throughout the play. Antonio, who seems not to expect to marry or have children, refers to himself as a "wether," or neutered ram. Portia's suitors, who vow never to seek other wives, also forfeit their ability to produce heirs.

The chests that Portia's suitors must open, like the rings that she and Nerissa give their husbands to safeguard, none-too-subtly evoke the female genitalia. In the final scene, when Portia and Nerissa pretend to have slept with the lawyer and the law clerk to whom their rings were given, they make this connection explicit. By using precious objectsand, in the case of the stones and the rings, objects of commercial exchangeto stand for human sex, Shakespeare links the supposedly pure spheres of love and marriage to the play's exploration of money and greed.

Stones, Rings, and Caskets Quotes in The Merchant of Venice

The The Merchant of Venice quotes below all refer to the symbol of Stones, Rings, and Caskets. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Prejudice and Intolerance Theme Icon
). 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 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. 


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