The Merchant of Venice: Scene Notes – Act II, scene ix




·         Second casket scene

·         Directly after scene describing Bassanio’s departure to Belmontà dramatic tension in audience- what if Bassanio is too late?

·         Arragon is the second suitor, he dismisses the gold casket which further inc dramatic tension

·         He eventually picks the second casket and leaves which sets relieves the audience’s tension which is then built up further by the entrance of Bassanio.



Motifs and Connotations

The casket test:

·         serves as a ‘personality test’ for Portia’s suitors

·         he 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 who you shall rightly love.”

·         Early form of the ‘penis envy’ complex; one has to have the same meaning as her father to pick the right casket therefore one would probably be like her father, Portia ends up marrying her ‘father’.

·         the one that contains a portrait of Portia ‘wins’

·         “-that wherein I am contained” (pg 105 line 5), the portrait within the casket is a metaphor of the oppression of Portia


The gold casket:

·         “Who chooseth me shall gain what many men desire” (pg 107 line23)

·         embodies the message that beauty is only skin deep as we see with Morocco

·         Arragon gives new meaning to the casket though “I will not choose what many men desire, because I will not jump with common spirits”, stating the irony that a ‘precious metal’ could be so common giving it a comedic twist instead of being solely a moral message.


The silver casket:

·         “Who chooseth me shall get as much as he deserves” (pg 107 line36)

·         dominant interpretation would be that it would be arrogant to think that you would deserve anything, Christian sin of pride,

·         alternative interpretation is that by choosing that casket it shows acceptance of what you deserve.


The lead casket

·         “Who chooseth me must give and hazard all he hath”

·         Arragon’s response, “you shall look fairer, ere I give or hazard” (pg 107 line22)

·         illustration of the theme of reality over appearance rather than the other way round




Appearance versus reality:

·         On the surface it appears that Arragon chose that of pleasing appearance “you shall look fairer, ere I give or hazard” however, his reasons for choosing the silver casket are more in sync with the idea of reality “-let none presume to wear an undeserved dignity”, he wants only what he deserves and nothing more.

·         Shakespeare rebuts the possibility that his choosing of the silver casket was not one of shallowness; “There be fools alive, I wis, silvered o’er, and so was this ” this could be referring to the pleasing outward appearance of the casket or it could be a reference to those with white hair who appeared to be wise in their old age.





·         “Thus has the candle stung the moth” Does the candle refer to her or the test?  Portia as the candle would be admitting, on the one hand, her ability to destroy her suitors, but on the other her powerlessness to control this flame-the candle is forced to burn.

·         The test defeats all those like moths, those who are attracted by appearance, and dooms them; making the candle stinging the moth a metaphor for the casket test.

·         line 85, “-what would my lord”, initially seen as mocking the servant’s consciousness of social class, could be seen as foreshadowing the coming of her lord Bassanio and her future subservience.



·         Why Arragon for the second choice? His name is a pun for arrogance

·         He is introduced as a man of honour and duty, his first thought is to his oath (pg 105 lines 9-16). This increases the tension the audience has that he might choose the right casket instead of Bassanio, as he appears like a ‘good’ character.

·         “fortune now to my heart’s hope” (pg 107 line20) yet he chooses the casket based on appearance, he also picks the casket which says he will get what he deserves; his beliefs that what he deserves are what he hopes for make him arrogant, they could also be seen as false humility and hypocritical as he is asking for fortune’s assistance yet later on dismisses it “for who should go about to cozen Fortune and be honourable without the stamp of merit”

·         Shakespeare’s commentary on the shallow nature of society, he sets up the character of Arragon for a fall due to hubris, but it could also be a comment on Arragon’s duty to society -his demise is inevitable as he chooses to follow society’s rules judging by appearance.




Why Belmont?:

Belmont is the where all lighter plots take place, the only place where females are allowed some form of freedom it is Shakespeare’s natural setting for love. Belmont appears to be Portia’s domain as we see it solely as her estate however, in this scene we see her enslaved to her father’s wishes “-that wherein I am contained”, lifting the illusion of Belmont as a place of love for the more modern audience who begin to see it as yet another place of male oppression. 



Narrative Style

Interesting points on language and structure

Free verse is spoken throughout, usually Belmont, as a place of female inhabitance, uses prose. Use of free verse could be a reaction to the improved suitor, the first suitor did speak in free verse but then started sharing lines with Portia lowering his status. Arragon does not ‘lower’ himself to speak either in prose or a shared line with Protia, displaying the separation between the two suitors.



Relation of Part to Whole

·         How does it fit in with the rest of the play? It gives the audience the answer to the riddle of the casket, setting up the arrival of Bassanio and his victory in the casket test.

·         It follows the scene where Shylock could be sympathized with, this scene would effectively prevent that as it directs the audience’s attention to the more lighthearted casket plot.