A line-by-line translation

The Merchant of Venice

The Merchant of Venice Translation Act 1, Scene 2

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Enter PORTIA and NERISSA

PORTIA

By my troth, Nerissa, my little body is aweary of this great world.

PORTIA

I swear, Nerissa, my little body is tired of this great big world.

NERISSA

You would be, sweet madam, if your miseries were in thesame abundance as your good fortunes are. And yet for aught I see, they are as sick that surfeit with too muchas they that starve with nothing. It is no mean happiness, therefore, to be seated in the mean. Superfluity comes sooner by white hairs, but competency lives longer.

NERISSA

If your troubles were as great as your good fortune, then you would be tired of the world. But as I see it, it seems that those who live in excess are as unhappy as those who starve with nothing. One should be happy, then, to find oneself somewhere in the middle. Having too much brings on gray hairs, while having enough to get by gives you a longer life.

PORTIA

Good sentences, and well pronounced.

PORTIA

Well spoken. Those are good sayings.

NERISSA

They would be better if well followed.

NERISSA

They'd be better if people followed them.

PORTIA

If to do were as easy as to know what were good to do, chapels had been churches and poor men’s cottages princes' palaces. It is a good divine that follows his own instructions. I can easier teach twenty what were good to be done than be one of the twenty to follow mineown teaching. The brain may devise laws for the blood, but a hot temper leaps o'er a cold decree. Such a hare is madness the youth—to skip o'er the meshes of good counsel the cripple. But this reasoning is not in the fashion to choose me a husband. O me, the word “choose!”I may neither choose whom I would nor refuse whom I dislike—so is the will of a living daughter curbed by the will of a dead father. Is it not hard, Nerissa, thatI cannot choose one nor refuse none?

PORTIA

If doing the right thing were as easy as knowing the right thing to do, people would be better off, little chapels would be big churches, and poor men's cottages would be princes' palaces. It is a good priest who can follow what he tells others to do. I could more easily teach twenty people what the right thing to do is than actually be one of those twenty and have to follow my own teaching. Your mind may exercise control over your passions, but a hot temper trumps cold reason. Young people are like mad rabbits: they hop over the fences of good advice. But this kind of reasoning is not going to help me choose a husband. Oh my, that I used the word "choose!" I can neither choose to marry the one I want nor refuse the ones I don't. The will of my dead father overpowers my own wishes. Isn't it unfortunate, Nerissa, that I can't pick which husband to choose or refuse?

NERISSA

Your father was ever virtuous, and holy men at their death have good inspirations. Therefore the lottery thathe hath devised in these three chests of gold, silver, and lead, whereof who chooses his meaning chooses you, will no doubt never be chosen by any rightly but one whoshall rightly love. But what warmth is there in your affection towards any of these princely suitors that arealready come?

NERISSA

Your father was always virtuous, and holy men have good ideas when they are dying. He has set up a lottery where your suitors will have to choose between chests of gold, silver, and lead, and whoever chooses the right one will win you as a wife. And I am sure whoever chooses correctly will be a man who will love you well. But what are your feelings toward the princely suitors who have already paid you visits?

PORTIA

I pray thee, overname them. And as thou namest them, I will describe them. And according to my description, level at my affection.

PORTIA

Please, name them one by one. As you name them, I will describe them and say how much affection I have for them.

NERISSA

First, there is the Neapolitan prince.

NERISSA

First, there is the prince from Naples.

PORTIA

Ay, that’s a colt indeed, for he doth nothing but talkof his horse, and he makes it a great appropriation to his own good parts that he can shoe him himself. I am much afeard my lady his mother played false with a smith.

PORTIA

Yes, that one's a stallion indeed. He does nothing but talk about his horse, and thinks that it speaks well of him that he can put the horseshoes on it all by himself. I'm worried his mother had an affair with a blacksmith.

NERISSA

Then there is the County Palatine.

NERISSA

Then there is the Count Palatine.

PORTIA

He doth nothing but frown, as who should say, “An you will not have me, choose.” He hears merry tales and smiles not. I fear he will prove the weeping philosopherwhen he grows old, being so full of unmannerly sadness in his youth. I had rather be married to a death’s-head with a bone in his mouth than to either of these. God defend me from these two!

PORTIA

He does nothing but frown, as if he's saying, "If you will not have me as your husband, choose someone else." He doesn't smile when he hears funny stories. I worry that when he grows old he'll turn into a weeping philosopher, since he's so full of impolite sadness as a young man. I'd rather be married to a skull with a bone in its mouth than to either of these men. God defend me from these two!

NERISSA

How say you by the French lord, Monsieur le Bon?

NERISSA

What do you have to say about the French lord, Monsieur le Bon?

PORTIA

God made him and therefore let him pass for a man. In truth, I know it is a sin to be a mocker, but he!— why, he hath a horse better than the Neapolitan’s, a better bad habit of frowning than the Count Palatine. He is every man in no man. If a throstle sing, he falls straight a- capering. He will fence with his own shadow.If I should marry him, I should marry twenty husbands. If he would despise me I would forgive him, for if he love me to madness I shall never requite him.

PORTIA

God created him, so I guess he counts as a man. I know it is a sin to mock someone like this, but he deserves it! He has a horse better than the prince from Naples' and frowns more than the Count Palatine. He imitates qualities of every other man, so that he seems to have no personality himself. If a bird sings, he starts dancing right away. He will show off his fencing moves against his own shadow. If I were to marry him, I'd have twenty husbands. I wouldn't mind if he despised me, because if he madly loves me I will never return his affection.

NERISSA

What say you then to Falconbridge, the young baron ofEngland?

NERISSA

What do you have to say about Falconbridge, then, the young baron from England?

PORTIA

You know I say nothing to him, for he understands not me, nor I him. He hath neither Latin, French, nor Italian, and you will come into the court and swear thatI have a poor pennyworth in the English. He is a properman’s picture, but alas, who can converse with a dumb show? How oddly he is suited! I think he bought his doublet in Italy, his round hose in France, his bonnet in Germany, and his behavior everywhere.

PORTIA

You know that I say nothing to him, because he can't understand me and I can't understand him. He knows neither Latin, French, nor Italian, and you could swear in a court of law that I have practically no English. He looks like a proper man, but who can talk with a someone who can't talk back? And how strange his clothes are! I think he bought his jacket in Italy, his socks in France, his hat in Germany, and his behavior everywhere.

NERISSA

What think you of the Scottish lord, his neighbor?

NERISSA

What do you think of his neighbor to the north, the Scottish lord?

PORTIA

That he hath a neighborly charity in him, for he borrowed a box of the ear of the Englishman and swore hewould pay him again when he was able. I think the Frenchman became his surety and sealed under for another.

PORTIA

I think he has a neighborly sense of charity, because he received a slap from the Englishman and only threatened to hit him back later, when he could. I think the Frenchman promised to join with him to pay the Englishman back, and added another slap.

NERISSA

How like you the young German, the Duke of Saxony’s nephew?

NERISSA

How do you like the young German, the Duke of Saxony's nephew?

PORTIA

Very vilely in the morning, when he is sober, and most vilely in the afternoon, when he is drunk. When he is best he is a little worse than a man, and when he is worst he is little better than a beast. And the worst fall that ever fell, I hope I shall make shift to go without him.

PORTIA

I dislike him in the morning, when he's sober, and I really hate him in the afternoon, when he's drunk. At his best, he is not quite a man, and at his worst he is barely better than a beast. Even if worst comes to worst, I hope I won't have to marry him.

NERISSA

If he should offer to choose and choose the right casket, you should refuse to perform your father’s will if you should refuse to accept him.

NERISSA

If he chooses the right casket and you refuse to marry him, you'd be refusing to follow your father's will.

PORTIA

Therefore, for fear of the worst, I pray thee, set a deep glass of rhenish wine on the contrary casket, for if the devil be within and that temptation without, I know he will choose it. I will do any thing, Nerissa, ere I’ll be married to a sponge.

PORTIA

Well then, for fear that might happen, please place a glass of wine on the wrong casket, because I know he will choose that one. I will do anything, Nerissa, to make sure I don't have to marry to a sponge.

NERISSA

You need not fear, lady, the having any of these lords. They have acquainted me with their determinations, which is indeed to return to their home and to trouble you with no more suit unless you may be won by some other sort than your father’s imposition depending on the caskets.

NERISSA

You don't have to worry about any of these lords, my lady. They have told me their intentions, and they are all planning on returning home and not bothering you anymore, unless they can win your favor by some other way than your father's plan with the caskets.

PORTIA

If I live to be as old as Sibylla, I will die as chasteas Diana unless I be obtained by the manner of my father’s will. I am glad this parcel of wooers are so reasonable, for there is not one among them but I dote on his very absence. And I pray God grant them a fair departure.

PORTIA

If I live to be as old as the Cumaean Sibyl, I'll still be as chaste as Diana unless I am married by my father's plan. I am glad this bunch of suitors have too much sense to play the game, because there is not one among them whose presence I actually enjoy. And I pray that God may grant them a smooth trip home. 

NERISSA

Do you not remember, lady, in your father’s time a Venetian, a scholar and a soldier, that came hither in company of the Marquess of Montferrat?

NERISSA

Do you remember, lady, from your father's time in Venice, a scholar and soldier who came here along with the Marquess of Montferrat?

PORTIA

Yes, yes, it was Bassanio—as I think he was so called.

PORTIA

Yes, yes, it was Bassanio—I think that was his name.

NERISSA

True, madam. He, of all the men that ever my foolish eyes looked upon, was the best deserving a fair lady.

NERISSA

That's right, madam. Of any man my foolish eyes have ever seen, he was the one most deserving of a beautiful lady.

PORTIA

I remember him well, and I remember him worthy of thy praise.

PORTIA

I remember him well, and I remember him being worthy of your praise.

Enter a SERVINGMAN

How now, what news?

How are things? What news is there?

SERVINGMAN

The four strangers seek for you, madam, to take their leave. And there is a forerunner come from a fifth, the Prince of Morocco, who brings word the prince his masterwill be here tonight.

SERVINGMAN

The four foreigners want to speak with you to say goodbye, madam. And ahead of them comes a fifth person, sent by the Prince of Morocco, who brings word that his master the prince will be here tonight.  

PORTIA

If I could bid the fifth welcome with so good a heart as I can bid the other four farewell, I should be glad of his approach. If he have the condition of a saint andthe complexion of a devil, I had rather he should shrive me than wive me. Come, Nerissa.— [to SERVANT] Sirrah, go before. Whiles we shut the gates upon one wooer Another knocks at the door.

PORTIA

If I could welcome the fifth person as happily as I will say goodbye to the first four, then I would really be ecstatic to see him. If he is as good as a saint but as dark as the devil, I'd rather he listen to my confession than make me his wife. Come with me, Nerissa.

[To the SERVANT]
 You, go ahead of us. While we shut the gates on one suitor, another one comes knocking at the door.

Exeunt

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Matt cosby
About the Translator: Matt Cosby
Matt Cosby graduated from Amherst College in 2011, and currently works as a writer and editor for LitCharts. He is from Florida but now lives in Portland, Oregon, where he also makes art, plays the piano, and goes to dog parks.