The Merchant of Venice


William Shakespeare

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The Merchant of Venice: Act 2, scene 7 Summary & Analysis

Read our modern English translation of this scene.
At Belmont, Portia shows the Prince of Morocco the three caskets. The first is gold and bears the words "Who chooseth me, shall gain what many men desire" (2.7.5). The second, silver, bears the words "Who chooseth me, shall get as much as he deserves" (2.7.7). The third, lead, bears the words "Who chooseth me, must give and hazard all he hath" (2.7.8).
The interpretation of the text that makes up the riddle of the caskets is analogous to Shylock and Antonio's competing readings of Genesis in 1.3 and foreshadows Portia's own legal interpretations in 5.1
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Morocco nervously and painstakingly ponders the caskets and their words. He rereads and debates the meaning of each, deciding, ultimately, that it must be the gold because that casket promises "what many men desire." After hesitating a moment longer, Morocco settles on the gold casket. Portia hands him the key and tells him that if her picture lies inside, she will be his wife. Morocco opens the casket, hopefully, but finds only a skull with a scroll stuck in one of its eye sockets. He reads its contents aloud. It is a poem, reproaching him for his choice: "All that glisters is not gold / Often you have heard that told," it chimes. It concludes: "Fare you well, your suit is cold."
Shakespeare prolongs the scene of riddle-decoding—which he has built up since Morocco's first appearance in 2.1—making it a dramatic, as well as interpretive act, all for the sake of love. The metallic character of the caskets also implicitly links the themes of love and greed. When he chooses incorrectly, Morocco is forced to suffer the legal consequences of incorrect interpretation.
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Greed vs. Generosity Theme Icon
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Literary Devices
Devastated, Morocco leaves. After he is gone, Portia snidely remarks that she hopes that "all of his complexion choose [...] so" (2.7.79).
Portia's prejudice surfaces again.
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