The Merchant of Venice: Act 1, Scene 2


           Enter PORTIA with her waiting-woman, NERISSA.

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

      NERISSA
  3   You would be, sweet madam, if your miseries were in
  4   the same abundance as your good fortunes are; and
  5   yet, for aught I see, they are as sick that surfeit
  6   with too much as they that starve with nothing. It
7‑8. in the / mean: between the extremes of too little and too much. 8. comes sooner by: acquires sooner, gets.
  7   is no mean happiness therefore, to be seated in the
  8   mean: superfluity comes sooner by white hairs, but
9. competency: moderate means.
  9   competency lives longer.

      PORTIA
10. sentences: maxims.
 10   Good sentences and well pronounced.

      NERISSA
 11   They would be better, if well followed.

      PORTIA
 12   If to do were as easy as to know what were good
 13   to do, chapels had been churches and poor men's
14. divine: clergyman.
 14   cottages princes' palaces. It is a good divine that
15. follows his own instructions: practices what he preaches.
 15   follows his own instructions: I can easier teach
 16   twenty what were good to be done, than be one of
 17   the twenty to follow mine own teaching. The brain
18. for the blood: to control passion. Blood was thought of as a chief agent of the passions . . . more hot temper: impetuous temperament. 20‑21. meshes of good counsel the / cripple: nets, snares of wisdom: good counsel is portrayed as an old man incapable of action. 22. this reasoning is not in the fashion to choose me a husband: this line of reasoning is not the way to help me in choosing a husband. 24. will: desire, volition. 25. will: testament.
 18   may devise laws for the blood, but a hot temper
 19   leaps o'er a cold decree: such a hare is madness the
 20   youth, to skip o'er the meshes of good counsel the
 21   cripple. But this reasoning is not in the fashion to
 22   choose me a husband. O me, the word 'choose!' I
 23   may neither choose whom I would nor refuse whom
 24   I dislike; so is the will of a living daughter curbed
 25   by the will of a dead father. Is it not hard, Nerissa,
 26   that I cannot choose one nor refuse none?

      NERISSA
 27   Your father was ever virtuous; and holy men at
 28   their death have good inspirations: therefore the
 29   lottery, that he hath devised in these three chests
30‑31. whereof: among which chests. who: whoever. chooses his meaning: i.e., guesses your father's intention correctly.
 30   of gold, silver and lead, whereof who chooses his
 31   meaning chooses you, will, no doubt, never be
 32   chosen by any rightly but one who shall rightly
 33   love. But what warmth is there in your affection
 34   towards any of these princely suitors that are
 35   already come?

      PORTIA
36. over-name them: name them over.
 36   I pray thee, over-name them; and as thou namest
 37   them, I will describe them; and, according to my
38. level: aim, guess.
 38   description, level at my affection.

      NERISSA
 39   First, there is the Neapolitan prince.

      PORTIA
40. colt: — In Shakespeare's time Neapolitans were famous for horsemanship.
 40   Ay, that's a colt indeed, for he doth nothing but
 41   talk of his horse; and he makes it a great
42. appropriation: addition. good parts: accomplishments.
 42   appropriation to his own good parts, that he can
 43   shoe him himself. I am much afeard my lady his
 44   mother played false with a smith.

      NERISSA
45. County: Count. Palatine: one possessing royal privileges.



47. choose: i.e., do what you please.

49. weeping philosopher: i.e., Heraclitus of Ephesus, a melancholic philosopher and Democritus . . . more 51‑52. death's-head with a bone in his mouth: Probably referring to the skull and cross-bones frequently cut on tombstones.
 45   Then there is the County Palatine.

      PORTIA
 46   He doth nothing but frown, as who should say
 47   "If you will not have me, choose." He hears
 48   merry tales and smiles not. I fear he will prove
 49   the weeping philosopher when he grows old,
 50   being so full of unmannerly sadness in his youth.
 51   I had rather be married to a death's-head with a
 52   bone in his mouth than to either of these. God
 53   defend me from these two!

      NERISSA
54. by: concerning.
 54   How say you by the French lord, Monsieur
 55   Le Bon?

      PORTIA
 56   God made him, and therefore let him pass for a man.
 57   In truth, I know it is a sin to be a mocker: but,
 58   he! why, he hath a horse better than the
 59   Neapolitan's, a better bad habit of frowning than
 60   the Count Palatine; he is every man in no man; if a
61. throstle: thrush.
 61   throstle sing, he falls straight a capering: he will
 62   fence with his own shadow: if I should marry him, I
 63   should marry twenty husbands. If he would despise
 64   me, I would forgive him, for if he love me to madness,
 65   I shall never requite him.

      NERISSA
 66   What say you, then, to Falconbridge, the young baron
 67   of England?

      PORTIA
 68   You know I say nothing to him, for he understands
 69   not me, nor I him: he hath neither Latin, French,
 70   nor Italian, and you will come into the court and
 71   swear that I have a poor pennyworth in the English.
72. is a proper man's picture: is handsome in appearance.
 72   He is a proper man's picture, but, alas, who can
 73   converse with a dumb-show? How oddly he is
74. suited: appareled, dressed. doublet: coat, upper garment.
 74   suited! I think he bought his doublet in Italy, his
75. round hose: short, tight-fitting breeches. bonnet: soft, cap-like hat. The satire in this passage on the international character of an English gallant's costume was commonplace at this time.
 75   round hose in France, his bonnet in Germany
 76   and his behavior every where.

      NERISSA
 77   What think you of the Scottish lord, his
 78   neighbor?

      PORTIA
 79   That he hath a neighborly charity in him, for he
 80   borrowed a box of the ear of the Englishman and
 81   swore he would pay him again when he was able.
82‑83. became his surety and sealed under for another: guaranteed the Scot's payment (of a box on the ear) and pledged himself to pay the Englishman with another blow (an allusion to French promises to back the Scots in their quarrels with the English).
 82   I think the Frenchman became his surety and sealed
 83   under for another.

      NERISSA
 84   How like you the young German, the Duke of
 85   Saxony's nephew?

      PORTIA
 86   Very vilely in the morning, when he is sober, and
 87   most vilely in the afternoon, when he is drunk: when
 88   he is best, he is a little worse than a man, and
 89   when he is worst, he is little better than a beast:
90. fall: befall. fell: befell.
 90   and the worst fall that ever fell, I hope I shall
91. make shift: manage, contrive.
 91   make shift to go without him.

      NERISSA
 92   If he should offer to choose, and choose the right
 93   casket, you should refuse to perform your father's
 94   will, if you should refuse to accept him.

      PORTIA
 95   Therefore, for fear of the worst, I pray thee, set a
96. rhenish wine: a German white wine from the Rhine valley. contrary: wrong.
 96   deep glass of rhenish wine on the contrary casket,
 97   for if the devil be within and that temptation
 98   without, I know he will choose it. I will do any
 99   thing, Nerissa, ere I'll be married to a sponge.

      NERISSA
100   You need not fear, lady, the having any of these
101   lords: they have acquainted me with their
102   determinations; which is, indeed, to return to their
103   home and to trouble you with no more suit, unless
104. sort: manner, way.
104   you may be won by some other sort than your father's
105. imposition: conditions imposed (if they fail to choose the right casket); see II.i.38‑42.
105   imposition depending on the caskets.

      PORTIA
106. Sibylla: the Cumaean Sibyl. Apollo promised her that her years would equal the number of grains of sand she held in her hand.
106   If I live to be as old as Sibylla, I will die as
107   chaste as Diana, unless I be obtained by the manner
108   of my father's will. I am glad this parcel of wooers
109   are so reasonable, for there is not one among them
110   but I dote on his very absence, and I pray God grant
111   them a fair departure.

      NERISSA
112   Do you not remember, lady, in your father's time, a
113   Venetian, a scholar and a soldier, that came hither
114   in company of the Marquis of Montferrat?

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

      NERISSA
117   True, madam: he, of all the men that ever my
118   foolish eyes looked upon, was the best deserving
119   a fair lady.

      PORTIA
120   I remember him well, and I remember him worthy
121   of thy praise.

           Enter a SERVINGMAN.

122   How now! what news?

      Servant
123. four: Nerissa has actually named six suitors, possibly a sign of revision. strangers: foreigners.
123   The four strangers seek for you, madam, to take
124   their leave: and there is a forerunner come from a
125   fifth, the Prince of Morocco, who brings word the
126   prince his master will be here tonight.

      PORTIA
127   If I could bid the fifth welcome with so good a
128   heart as I can bid the other four farewell, I should
129. condition: disposition, character.
129   be glad of his approach: if he have the condition
130. complexion of a devil: Devils were always represented as black in Shakespeare's day. 131. shrive me: act as my confessor; and grant me absolution. 132. Sirrah: form of address used on inferiors.
130   of a saint and the complexion of a devil, I had
131   rather he should shrive me than wive me.
132   Come, Nerissa. Sirrah, go before.
133   Whiles we shut the gates upon one wooer,
133        another knocks at the door.

           Exeunt.