A line-by-line translation

The Merchant of Venice

The Merchant of Venice Translation Act 2, Scene 9

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Enter NERISSA and a servitor

NERISSA

Quick, quick, I pray thee. Draw the curtain straight.The Prince of Arragon hath ta'en his oathAnd comes to his election presently.

NERISSA

Hurry, hurry, please. Close up the curtain right now. The Prince of Aragon has sworn his oath and now comes to make his selection.

Flourish cornets Enter the Prince of ARRAGON, his train, and PORTIA

PORTIA

Behold, there stand the caskets, noble Prince. If you choose that wherein I am contained, Straight shall our nuptial rites be solemnized. But if you fail, without more speech, my lord, You must be gone from hence immediately.

PORTIA

Behold, there are the caskets, noble Prince. If you choose the one that contains a picture of me, we will get married right away. But if you make the wrong choice, you must leave here immediately, my lord, without saying another word.

ARRAGON

I am enjoined by oath to observe three things: First, never to unfold to any one Which casket ’twas I chose; next, if I fail Of the right casket, never in my life To woo a maid in way of marriage; lastly, If I do fail in fortune of my choice, Immediately to leave you and be gone.

ARRAGON

I am bound by oath to do the following three things: first, I can never tell anyone which casket it was that I chose. Second, if I fail to choose the right casket, I will never again court a woman in marriage. And third, if I fail to make the right choice, I must immediately be gone and leave you.

PORTIA

To these injunctions every one doth swearThat comes to hazard for my worthless self.

PORTIA

Everyone must agree to these conditions who wants to risk it for me, as worthless as I am.

ARRAGON

And so have I addressed me. Fortune now To my heart’s hope! Gold, silver, and base lead. “Who chooseth me must give and hazard all he hath.” You shall look fairer ere I give or hazard. What says the golden chest? Ha, let me see. “Who chooseth me shall gain what many men desire.” “What many men desire”—that “many” may be meant By the fool multitude that choose by show, Not learning more than the fond eye doth teach; Which pries not to th' interior, but like the martlet Builds in the weather on the outward wall, Even in the force and road of casualty. I will not choose what many men desire Because I will not jump with common spirits And rank me with the barbarous multitudes. Why then, to thee, thou silver treasure house. Tell me once more what title thou dost bear. “Who chooseth me shall get as much as he deserves.” And well said too—for who shall go about To cozen fortune and be honorable Without the stamp of merit? Let none presume To wear an undeservèd dignity. Oh, that estates, degrees and offices Were not derived corruptly, and that clear honor Were purchased by the merit of the wearer! How many then should cover that stand bare! How many be commanded that command! How much low peasantry would then be gleaned From the true seed of honor! And how much honor Picked from the chaff and ruin of the times To be new varnished! Well, but to my choice. “Who chooseth me shall get as much as he deserves.” I will assume desert.—Give me a key for this, And instantly unlock my fortunes here.

ARRAGON

I am prepared to take the risk. May fortune smile upon the hopes in my heart! Gold, silver, and lowly lead. "He who chooses me must give up and risk all that he has." You'd need to look better before I give up or risk everything for you. What does the golden chest say? Hm, let me see. "He who chooses me will get what many men desire." What many men desire—"many" may refer to the majority of fools who choose things based on appearance, trusting their eyes alone. But you can't see through to what's on the inside. Those people are like martlet birds, who build their nests on the outer walls, obsessed with the outside. I will not choose that which many men desire, because I will not join in with the common, barbarous multitudes. Well, then, on  to the silver casket. Let's see again what your inscription says. "He who chooses me will get as much as he deserves." I agree with this saying, because who should attain good fortune and honor if they don't deserve it? No one should pretend to have more dignity than they really deserve. I wish estates, degrees, and jobs were not gotten corruptly, and that honor was given out based on merit! If that were the case, many great men would be put in their place, and many men who are in command now would be commanded by others. How many nobleman would be transformed into common peasants! And how many commoners would now shine with honor! But anyways, it's time for me to make my choice. "He who chooses me will get as much as he deserves." I know what I deserve. Give me the key for this one, and I will unlock my fortune here right away.

ARRAGON opens the silver casket

PORTIA

Too long a pause for that which you find there.

PORTIA

You've taken too much time for what you've found inside.

ARRAGON

What’s here? The portrait of a blinking idiot Presenting me a schedule! I will read it.— How much unlike art thou to Portia! How much unlike my hopes and my deservings! “Who chooseth me shall have as much as he deserves”! Did I deserve no more than a fool’s head? Is that my prize? Are my deserts no better?

ARRAGON

What's here? The portrait of an idiot holding something for me to read! I will read it. How different this picture is from one of Portia! This is so unlike what I hoped for and what I deserved! "He who chooses me will get as much as he deserves!" Did I deserve nothing but a fool's head? Is that my prize? Do I deserve no better?

PORTIA

To offend and judge are distinct officesAnd of opposèd natures.

PORTIA

If I were to answer you, it might offend you.

ARRAGON

What is here? [reads] “The fire seven times tried this, Seven times tried that judgment is, That did never choose amiss. Some there be that shadows kiss. Such have but a shadow’s bliss. There be fools alive, iwis, Silvered o'er—and so was this. Take what wife you will to bed, I will ever be your head. So be gone. You are sped. Still more fool I shall appear” By the time I linger here. With one fool’s head I came to woo, But I go away with two.— Sweet, adieu. I’ll keep my oath Patiently to bear my wroth.”

ARRAGON

What does it say here?

[He reads aloud]
 This silver chest was put in the fire seven times. The kind of judgment that never chooses wrongly can withstand as many tests. Some people kiss shadows, and only have a shadow of bliss. There are some foolish people covered with silver hair, and this casket had a silver covering as well. Take whatever wife you want to bed, but this fool's head will always be yours. So go away. You must leave." The more time I linger here, the more foolish I'll seem. I came to woo Portia with the head of a fool, and now I leave with two fool's heads. Goodbye, sweet lady. I'll keep my word and bear my misfortune patiently. 

Exeunt ARRAGON and his train

PORTIA

Thus hath the candle singed the moth.O these deliberate fools! When they do choose, They have the wisdom by their wit to lose.

PORTIA

And he's gone, like a moth that's flown too close to the flame. These fools think it over so much! And when they finally choose, their wits aren't enough and they lose.

NERISSA

The ancient saying is no heresy.Hanging and wiving goes by destiny.

NERISSA

The ancient saying is true: death and marriage are matters of destiny.

PORTIA

Come, draw the curtain, Nerissa.

PORTIA

Come on, close the curtain, Nerissa.

Enter MESSENGER

Messenger

Where is my lady?

Messenger

Where is my lady?

PORTIA

Here. What would my lord?

PORTIA

I am here. What do you want?

MESSENGER

Madam, there is alighted at your gate A young Venetian, one that comes before To signify th' approaching of his lord, From whom he bringeth sensible regreets, To wit—besides commends and courteous breath— Gifts of rich value. Yet I have not seen So likely an ambassador of love. A day in April never came so sweet To show how costly summer was at hand, As this forespurrer comes before his lord.

MESSENGER

Madam, a young Venetian has come to your gate. He has gone ahead of his lord to tell you that his master is approaching. He brings kind greetings and, in addition to niceties and courteous manners, valuable gifts. I haven't yet seen any ambassador of love as likely to succeed as this one. This man coming ahead of his lord is sweeter than a warm April day showing summer is near.

PORTIA

No more, I pray thee. I am half afeard Thou wilt say anon he is some kin to thee, Thou spend’st such high-day wit in praising him.— Come, come, Nerissa, for I long to see Quick Cupid’s post that comes so mannerly.

PORTIA

Enough, please. I'm worried next you'll tell me he's your cousin, since you praise him so much. Come on, Nerissa, I want to see this messenger of Cupid who comes with such good manners.

NERISSA

Bassanio, Lord Love, if thy will it be!

NERISSA

God of Love, please let it be Bassanio!

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.