The Merchant of Venice: Scene Notes – Act III, scene ii (lines 1-148)




This scene opens to Portia begging Bassanio to wait to make his decision about which casket to choose, fearing that he will have to depart. However, he insists, whishing to “avoid prolonging the torment of living without Portia.” : He rejects the gold casket, saying that “[t]he world is still deceived with ornament” (III.ii.74), while the silver he deems a “pale and common drudge / ’Tween man and man” (III.ii.103104). After some careful thought, Bassanio picks the lead casket, which he opens to reveal Portia’s portrait, along with a poem congratulating him on his choice and confirming that he has won Portia’s hand.



Motifs & Connotations

In this portion, perhaps more than in any other, there is the idea that Bassanio is a gentleman who looks beyond outside appearance. He says, “So are those crisped, snakey golden locks which make such wanton gambols with the wind.” He relates ‘golden locks’ to a snake, a snake being synonymous with evil. This has the obvious effect of degrading the normally enormous value of gold (and beauty). Therefore, Bassanio represents an idealist view of a Shakespearian male who looks beyond face value. Such an idea is made more explicit by Bassanio’s choice of the lead casket, in line with such and ideal has a harsh out word appearance yet contains the prize.




Key in this portion of the play is the idea of love and its effect on individuals. Portia especially exemplifies love and its effect. Having been fully taken by Bassanio she begs him to wait before choosing saying, “Before you hazard, for in choosing wrong I lose your company; therefore forbear a while.”  However Bassanio, despite having wooed Portia, has a vested interest in marriage, Portia’s inheritance. With this, a second theme is set forth, that is the contrast between self interest and love, Portia’s love at first sight against Bassanio’s need for financial security.




Imagery can be said to be important to the themes, motifs and connotations, especially to the idea of looking beyond outside appearance. Bassanio says, “So are those crisped, snaky golden locks which make such wanton gambols with the wind.” Here, it is evident that he is referring to hair with the words crisped and the phrase gambols in the wind. This gives one a clear image of Portia, while also showing that gold although pleasing can hide hidden truths by referring them to snakes. It is also interesting to point out that these choice words and imagery could be seen as representing the contrast between love and personal interest. While give a pleasant image of Portia the inclusion of the word ‘snakey’ in relation to golden can be said to show dissimilarity.




In this section, Bassano and Portia are the only characters to appear. However, despite her initial appearance as a ‘stereotypical’ love struck individual, she becomes a rounder character by showing a degree keen wit. Bassanio says “Let me choose for as I am , I live upon the rack....there may as well be amity and life ‘tween snow and fire, as treason and my love.” To this Portia replies “Ay, but I fear you speak upon the rack where men enforced do speak anything.” Such a comment to immediately counter Bassanio gives the audience the sense that Portia is more than a love struck individual, but also a keen and quick minded character.




The setting does not appear to be critically important in this portion. However, it is important to point out that this scene is not set in Venice but rather in Belmont at Portia’s house. In general throughout this play, all issues dealing with love and women in particular take place at Belmont. This falls in line with Shakespearian views that women and business should be separated.



Narrative Style/Structure

Within this scene and specifically lines 1 to 148, Bassanio by far has the greatest number of lines. He repeated proclaims his affection for Portia but also speaks of the casket task. This can be said to show Shakespearian views of the supremacy of male figures. However, Portia does have a great many lines which can be said to by symbolic of her affection for Bassanio but also her level of wit as she is able keenly respond to Bassanio’s remarks.



Relation of Part to Whole

As this is portion can be seen as a climax, this passage is key in relation to the whole play. Here, Bassanio chooses the correct casket and gains the hand of Portia in marriage. Without this development, the following portions could not take place and this sets the stage for the remanding sections of the work.