The Merchant of Venice

by: William Shakespeare

  Act 3 Scene 2

page Act 3 Scene 2 Page 4

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BASSANIO

75So may the outward shows be least themselves.
The world is still deceived with ornament.
In law, what plea so tainted and corrupt
But, being seasoned with a gracious voice,
Obscures the show of evil? In religion,
80What damnèd error, but some sober brow
Will bless it and approve it with a text,
Hiding the grossness with fair ornament?
There is no vice so simple but assumes
Some mark of virtue on his outward parts.
85How many cowards whose hearts are all as false
As stairs of sand wear yet upon their chins
The beards of Hercules and frowning Mars,
Who, inward searched, have livers white as milk,
And these assume but valor’s excrement
90To render them redoubted. Look on beauty,
And you shall see ’tis purchased by the weight,
Which therein works a miracle in nature,
Making them lightest that wear most of it.
So are those crispèd snaky golden locks
95Which maketh such wanton gambols with the wind,
Upon supposèd fairness, often known
To be the dowry of a second head,
The skull that bred them in the sepulcher.
Thus ornament is but the guilèd shore
100To a most dangerous sea, the beauteous scarf
Veiling an Indian beauty—in a word,
The seeming truth which cunning times put on
To entrap the wisest. Therefore then, thou gaudy gold,
Hard food for Midas, I will none of thee.
105Nor none of thee, thou pale and common drudge
'Tween man and man. But thou, thou meagre lead,
Which rather threaten’st than dost promise aught,
Thy paleness moves me more than eloquence,
And here choose I. Joy be the consequence!

BASSANIO

You can’t always judge a book by its cover. People are often tricked by false appearances. In court, someone can deliver a false plea but hide its wickedness with a pretty voice. In religion, don’t serious men defend sins with Scripture, covering up evil with a show of good. Every sin in the world manages to make itself look good somehow. How many people are cowards at heart but wear beards like Hercules or Mars, the god of war? Take another example: beauty. It can be bought by the ounce in makeup, which works miracles. Women who wear it the most are respected the least. It’s the same thing with hair. Curly golden hair moves so nicely in the wind and makes a woman beautiful. But you can buy that kind of hair as a wig, and wigs are made from dead people’s hair. Decoration’s nothing but a danger, meant to trick and trap the viewer. A lovely, cunning shore can distract a man from the perils of a stormy sea, just as a pretty scarf can hide a dangerous dark-skinned beauty. Nowadays, everyone’s fooled by appearances. So I’ll have nothing to do with that gaudy gold box—it’s like the gold that Midas couldn’t eat. And I’ll have nothing to do with the pale silver either, the metal that common coins are made of. But this humble lead one, though it looks too threatening to promise me anything good, moves me more than I can say. So this is the one I choose. I hope I’m happy with my choice!