Belmont. A room in Portia’s house.
(Portia; Nerissa; Portia’s Servant)
Portia laments how she cannot choose her husband for herself, but must accept whichever one chooses the correct casket that her father has left behind after his death. She and her lady-in-waiting Nerissa discuss the various suitors who have come to woo her, none of whom she particularly likes — though she has fond memories of Bassanio. Despite this lack of interest in the possibilities, Portia insists she will obey her father’s will. A servant informs her that four of her suitors have decided not to risk taking the casket test, since if they fail they are bound to never marry, and that the Prince of Morocco will be arriving that evening. (32 lines)
Enter Portia with her waiting-woman, Nerissa.
By my troth, Nerissa, my little body is a-weary of this great world.
You would be, sweet madam, if your miseries were in the same abundance as your good fortunes are; and yet for aught I see, they are as sick that surfeit with too much as they that starve with nothing. It is no mean happiness therefore to be seated in the mean: superfluity comes sooner by white hairs, but competency lives longer.
Good sentences, and well pronounc’d.
They would be better if well follow’d.
If to do were as easy as to know what were good to do, chapels had been churches, and poor men’s cottages princes’ palaces. It is a good divine that follows his own instructions; I can easier teach twenty what were good to be done, than to be one of the twenty to follow mine own teaching. The brain may devise laws for the blood, but a hot temper leaps o’er a cold decree—such a hare is madness the youth, to skip o’er the meshes of good counsel the cripple. But this reasoning is not in the fashion to choose me a husband. O me, the word choose! I may neither choose who I would, nor refuse who I dislike; so is the will of a living daughter curb’d by the will of a dead father. Is it not hard, Nerissa, that I cannot choose one, nor refuse none?
Your father was ever virtuous, and holy men at their death have good inspirations; therefore the lott’ry that he hath devis’d 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. But what warmth is there in your affection towards any of these princely suitors that are already come?
I pray thee over-name them, and as thou namest them, I will describe them; and according to my description level at my affection.
First, there is the Neapolitan prince.
Ay, that’s a colt indeed, for he doth nothing but talk of his horse, and he makes it a great appropriation to his own good parts that he can shoe him himself. I am much afeard my lady his mother play’d false with a smith.
Then is there the County Palentine.
He doth nothing but frown, as who should say, “And you will not have me, choose.” He hears merry tales and smiles not. I fear he will prove the weeping philosopher when he grows old, being so full of unmannerly sadness in his youth. I had rather be married to a death’s-head with a bone in his mouth than to either of these. God defend me from these two!
How say you by the French lord, Monsieur Le Bon?
God made him, and therefore let him pass for a man. In truth, I know it is a sin to be a mocker, but he! Why, he hath a horse better than the Neapolitan’s, a better bad habit of frowning than the Count Palentine; he is every man in no man. If a throstle sing, he falls straight a-cap’ring. He will fence with his own shadow. If I should marry him, I should marry twenty husbands. If he would despise me, I would forgive him, for if he love me to madness, I shall never requite him.
What say you then to Falconbridge, the young baron of England?
You know I say nothing to him, for he understands not me, nor I him. He hath neither Latin, French, nor Italian, and you will come into the court and swear that I have a poor pennyworth in the English. He is a proper man’s picture, but alas, who can converse with a dumb show? How oddly he is suited! I think he bought his doublet in Italy, his round hose in France, his bonnet in Germany, and his behavior every where.
What think you of the Scottish lord, his neighbor?
That he hath a neighborly charity in him, for he borrow’d a box of the ear of the Englishman, and swore he would pay him again when he was able. I think the Frenchman became his surety and seal’d under for another.
How like you the young German, the Duke of Saxony’s nephew?
Very vildly in the morning, when he is sober, and most vildly in the afternoon, when he is drunk. When he is best, he is a little worse than a man, and when he is worst, he is little better than a beast. And the worst fall that ever fell, I hope I shall make shift to go without him.
If he should offer to choose, and choose the right casket, you should refuse to perform your father’s will, if you should refuse to accept him.
Therefore for fear of the worst, I pray thee set a deep glass of Rhenish wine on the contrary casket, for if the devil be within, and that temptation without, I know he will choose it. I will do any thing, Nerissa, ere I will be married to a sponge.
You need not fear, lady, the having any of these lords. They have acquainted me with their determinations, which is indeed to return to their home, and to trouble you with no more suit, unless you may be won by some other sort than your father’s imposition depending on the caskets.
If I live to be as old as Sibylla, I will die as chaste as Diana, unless I be obtain’d by the manner of my father’s will. I am glad this parcel of wooers are so reasonable, for there is not one among them but I dote on his very absence, and I pray God grant them a fair departure.
Do you not remember, lady, in your father’s time, a Venetian, a scholar and a soldier, that came hither in company of the Marquis of Montferrat?
Yes, yes, it was Bassanio—as I think, so was he call’d.
True, madam; he, of all the men that ever my foolish eyes look’d upon, was the best deserving a fair lady.
I remember him well, and I remember him worthy of thy praise.
Enter a Servingman.
How now, what news?
The four strangers seek for you, madam, to take their leave; and there is a forerunner come from a fift, the Prince of Morocco, who brings word the Prince his master will be here tonight.
If I could bid the fifth welcome with so good heart as I can bid the other four farewell, I should be glad of his approach. If he have the condition of a saint, and the complexion of a devil, I had rather he should shrive me than wive me.
Come, Nerissa. Sirrah, go before.
Whiles we shut the gate upon one wooer, another knocks at the door.