The Merchant of Venice

by: William Shakespeare

Original Text

Modern Text

“What many men desire”—that “many” may be meant
25By the fool multitude that choose by show,
Not learning more than the fond eye doth teach;
Which pries not to th' interior, but like the martlet
Builds in the weather on the outward wall,
Even in the force and road of casualty.
30I will not choose what many men desire
Because I will not jump with common spirits
And rank me with the barbarous multitudes.
Why then, to thee, thou silver treasure house.
Tell me once more what title thou dost bear.
35“Who chooseth me shall get as much as he deserves.”
And well said too—for who shall go about
To cozen fortune and be honorable
Without the stamp of merit? Let none presume
To wear an undeservèd dignity.
40Oh, that estates, degrees and offices
Were not derived corruptly, and that clear honor
Were purchased by the merit of the wearer!
How many then should cover that stand bare!
How many be commanded that command!
45How much low peasantry would then be gleaned
From the true seed of honor! And how much honor
Picked from the chaff and ruin of the times
To be new varnished! Well, but to my choice.
“Who chooseth me shall get as much as he deserves.”
50I will assume desert.—Give me a key for this,
And instantly unlock my fortunes here.
“He who chooses me will get what many men want.” What many men want—that “many” could mean that most people are fools and choose by whatever is flashy. They don’t go beyond what their eyes see. They don’t bother to find out what’s on the inside. Just like those birds called martins who build their nests on the outside of walls, people pay too much attention to what’s on the outside. So I won’t choose what many men desire, because I won’t jump on the bandwagon and include myself with the whole crude population. So I guess it’s you, you silver treasure house. Tell me once more what you say. “He who chooses me will get what he deserves.” That’s nicely put—because who’s going to cheat luck and get more than he deserves? No one should have an honor he doesn’t deserve. Oh, wouldn’t it be great if property, rank, official positions, and other honors were earned only by merit, not by corruption? There wouldn’t be too many important men then. How many people who are humble now would be great then? How many people who give orders now would have to take orders? How many noblemen would be weeded out and would become peasants? And how many common people would suddenly shine with nobility? Well, let me get back to my choice. “He who chooses me will get what he deserves.” I’ll assume I deserve the very best.—Give me a key for this one. I’ll unlock my fate here in a second.
ARRAGON opens the silver casket
ARRAGON opens the silver casket.


Too long a pause for that which you find there.


You thought about it too long, considering what you found there.