The Merchant of Venice - Act 1, scene 2
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Act 1, scene 2
At Portia’s estate of Belmont, Portia and Nerissa talk over Portia’s frustration at being unable to choose her own husband. According to her father’s will, she may marry only the man who chooses correctly among three small chests made of gold, silver, and lead. Portia likes none of the suitors who have so far arrived. A messenger enters to announce the coming of a new suitor, the Prince of Morocco.Enter Portia with her waiting woman Nerissa.
PORTIA 0193 By my troth, Nerissa, my little body is aweary
0194 of this great world.
NERISSA 0195 You would be, sweet madam, if your miseries
0196 were in the same abundance as your good fortunes
0197 5 are. And yet, for aught I see, they are as sick that
0198 surfeit with too much as they that starve with
0199 nothing. It is no mean happiness, therefore, to be
0200 seated in the mean. Superfluity comes sooner by
0201 white hairs, but competency lives longer.
PORTIA 0202 10Good sentences, and well pronounced.
NERISSA 0203 They would be better if well followed.
0205 good to do, chapels had been churches, and poor
0206 men’s cottages princes’ palaces. It is a good divine
0207 15 that follows his own instructions. I can easier teach
0208 twenty what were good to be done than to be one of
0209 the twenty to follow mine own teaching. The brain
0210 may devise laws for the blood, but a hot temper
0211 leaps o’er a cold decree: such a hare is madness the
0212 20 youth, to skip o’er the meshes of good counsel the
0213 cripple. But this reasoning is not in the fashion to
0214 choose me a husband. O, me, the word “choose”! I
0215 may neither choose who I would nor refuse who I
0216 dislike. So is the will of a living daughter curbed by
0217 25 the will of a dead father. Is it not hard, Nerissa, that
0218 I cannot choose one, nor refuse none?
NERISSA 0219 Your father was ever virtuous, and holy men
0220 at their death have good inspirations. Therefore the
0221 lottery that he hath devised in these three chests of
0222 30 gold, silver, and lead, whereof who chooses his
0223 meaning chooses you, will no doubt never be
0224 chosen by any rightly but one who you shall rightly
0225 love. But what warmth is there in your affection
0226 towards any of these princely suitors that are already
0227 35 come?
PORTIA 0228 I pray thee, overname them, and as thou
0229 namest them, I will describe them, and according
0230 to my description level at my affection.
NERISSA 0231 First, there is the Neapolitan prince.
PORTIA 0232 40Ay, that’s a colt indeed, for he doth nothing but
0233 talk of his horse, and he makes it a great appropriation
0234 to his own good parts that he can shoe him
0235 himself. I am much afeard my lady his mother
0236 played false with a smith.
NERISSA 0237 45Then is there the County Palatine.
PORTIA 0238 He doth nothing but frown, as who should say
0239 “An you will not have me, choose.” He hears
0241 weeping philosopher when he grows old, being so
0242 50 full of unmannerly sadness in his youth. I had
0243 rather be married to a death’s-head with a bone in
0244 his mouth than to either of these. God defend me
0245 from these two!
NERISSA 0246 How say you by the French lord, Monsieur Le
0247 55 ⌜Bon⌝?
PORTIA 0248 God made him, and therefore let him pass for
0249 a man. In truth, I know it is a sin to be a mocker,
0250 but he!—why, he hath a horse better than the
0251 Neapolitan’s, a better bad habit of frowning than
0252 60 the Count Palatine. He is every man in no man. If a
0253 ⌜throstle⌝ sing, he falls straight a-cap’ring. He will
0254 fence with his own shadow. If I should marry him, I
0255 should marry twenty husbands! If he would despise
0256 me, I would forgive him, for if he love me to
0257 65 madness, I shall never requite him.
NERISSA 0258 What say you then to Falconbridge, the young
0259 baron of England?
PORTIA 0260 You know I say nothing to him, for he understands
0261 not me, nor I him. He hath neither Latin,
0262 70 French, nor Italian; and you will come into the
0263 court and swear that I have a poor pennyworth in
0264 the English. He is a proper man’s picture, but alas,
0265 who can converse with a dumb show? How oddly
0266 he is suited! I think he bought his doublet in Italy,
0267 75 his round hose in France, his bonnet in Germany,
0268 and his behavior everywhere.
NERISSA 0269 What think you of the Scottish lord, his
PORTIA 0271 That he hath a neighborly charity in him, for
0272 80 he borrowed a box of the ear of the Englishman,
0273 and swore he would pay him again when he was
0274 able. I think the Frenchman became his surety and
0275 sealed under for another.
0277 85 Saxony’s nephew?
PORTIA 0278 Very vilely in the morning, when he is sober,
0279 and most vilely in the afternoon, when he is drunk.
0280 When he is best he is a little worse than a man, and
0281 when he is worst he is little better than a beast. An
0282 90 the worst fall that ever fell, I hope I shall make shift
0283 to go without him.
NERISSA 0284 If he should offer to choose, and choose the
0285 right casket, you should refuse to perform your
0286 father’s will if you should refuse to accept him.
PORTIA 0287 95Therefore, for fear of the worst, I pray thee set
0288 a deep glass of Rhenish wine on the contrary
0289 casket, for if the devil be within and that temptation
0290 without, I know he will choose it. I will do
0291 anything, Nerissa, ere I will be married to a sponge.
NERISSA 0292 100You need not fear, lady, the having any of
0293 these lords. They have acquainted me with their
0294 determinations, which is indeed to return to their
0295 home and to trouble you with no more suit, unless
0296 you may be won by some other sort than your
0297 105 father’s imposition depending on the caskets.
PORTIA 0298 If I live to be as old as Sibylla, I will die as
0299 chaste as Diana unless I be obtained by the manner
0300 of my father’s will. I am glad this parcel of wooers
0301 are so reasonable, for there is not one among them
0302 110 but I dote on his very absence. And I pray God
0303 grant them a fair departure!
NERISSA 0304 Do you not remember, lady, in your father’s
0305 time, a Venetian, a scholar and a soldier, that came
0306 hither in company of the Marquess of Montferrat?
PORTIA 0307 115Yes, yes, it was Bassanio—as I think so was he
NERISSA 0309 True, madam. He, of all the men that ever my
0310 foolish eyes looked upon, was the best deserving a
0311 fair lady.
0313 worthy of thy praise.
Enter a Servingman.
0314 How now, what news?
SERVINGMAN 0315 The four strangers seek for you, madam,
0316 to take their leave. And there is a forerunner come
0317 125 from a fifth, the Prince of Morocco, who brings
0318 word the Prince his master will be here tonight.
PORTIA 0319 If I could bid the fifth welcome with so good
0320 heart as I can bid the other four farewell, I should
0321 be glad of his approach. If he have the condition of
0322 130 a saint and the complexion of a devil, I had rather
0323 he should shrive me than wive me.
0324 Come, Nerissa. ⌜To Servingman.⌝ Sirrah, go before.—
0325 Whiles we shut the gate upon one wooer, another
0326 knocks at the door.