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Free Study Guide-The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare-Study Guide
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SCENE SUMMARIES WITH NOTES

ACT II, SCENE 1

Summary

Back at Belmont, the Prince of Morocco woos Portia. The Moor brags about his past amorous adventures. He also says that she should not reject him because of his black skin; he swears that beneath his skin is red blood and a brave heart. Portia assures him that her choice is governed by her father's will. The Moor continues to brag about his many conquests and enumerates the feats he will perform on her behalf. He is apprehensive that luck will award the prize to someone less worthy than himself. The Prince finally agrees to the conditions of the lottery and promises that he will never woo another woman if he selects the wrong casket.


Notes

The Prince of Morocco is about to take his chances with the caskets. He is in flowing robes and his attendants are brilliantly dressed, which gives the setting a very colorful and exotic air. He is described as "A tawny Moor, all in white," and he assures Portia that beneath his dark skin, his blood is redder than "the fairest northward born." He boasts that brave men have feared him and "virgins" have loved him."

For the Elizabethan society, the Moor and the African were both thought of as barbarians. A marriage between a well-born Christian lady and a Moor, even though a Prince, would have been derided. Portia, though, is bound to marry Morochus by the terms of the will if his choice of caskets is right. The correct choice, therefore, becomes a measure of a man's inner worth. The Moor's arrogant and boastful nature precludes any thought of his ability to choose wisely.

Portia's tact is evident in her reply that the choice is not in her hands. She assures him that if she had free choice, she would not discriminate against the color of his skin. The Moor thanks Portia and continues to brag, while listing the brave and daring feats he will perform for Portia. His language is rich and rhetorical, but he is arrogant. He is apprehensive about the test of the caskets since his bravery and strength will be of little use to him. He thinks it is a question of pure luck and laments that "blind fortune" may lead him to the wrong casket; then the prize would be awarded to one less deserving.

Portia reminds the Moor of the conditions that must be followed if he wants to guess a casket. She tells him, "If you choose wrong, never speak to a lady afterward, in way of marriage." Morochus agrees and promises to swear in the temple to these conditions. Portia then plays the perfect hostess. Morochus will not make his choice until they have dined together.

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