In Belmont is a lady richly left, And she is fair and—fairer than that word— Of wondrous virtues. Sometimes from her eyes I did receive fair speechless messages. Her name is Portia, nothing undervalued To Cato’s daughter, Brutus' Portia. Nor is the wide world ignorant of her worth, For the four winds blow in from every coast Renownèd suitors, and her sunny locks Hang on her temples like a golden fleece, Which makes her seat of Belmont Colchos' strand, And many Jasons come in quest of her. O my Antonio, had I but the means To hold a rival place with one of them, I have a mind presages me such thrift That I should questionless be fortunate! (A I, s i)
Bassanio speaks to Antonio about his plan to court Portia. While Bassanio reveals he likes Portia’s beauty and good character, he proposes this plan more as a means to gain wealth and fix his money problems. Bassanio speaks specifically of Portia’s widely known wealth. Even though Bassanio mentions Portia’s virtues and seems genuinely interested in marrying her, he outwardly admits that her wealth motivates him. Bassanio’s character shows how wealth and greed often coincide with other human motivations.
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. (A I, s ii)
Nerissa makes a case to Portia about the human costs of wealth, comparing the effects of adversity and prosperity. Portia, a rich heiress, has told Nerissa of feeling miserable as she contemplates choosing her husband according to her father’s will. Nerissa explains to Portia that she believes that having too much money can cause just as many problems as not having enough money. She continues by saying that those who live the longest are typically somewhere in the middle in terms of wealth. Nerissa identifies the theme of wealth and greed as she recognizes that Portia’s wealth comes with its share of challenges.
All that glisters is not gold— Often have you heard that told. Many a man his life hath sold But my outside to behold. Gilded tombs do worms enfold. Had you been as wise as bold, Young in limbs, in judgment old, Your answer had not been inscrolled. Fare you well . . . (A II, s vii)
The Prince of Morocco reads a scroll he finds inside the gold box he chose in his attempt to win Portia’s hand in marriage. The text informs the suitor who opens the box not only of his incorrect choice but also of his flawed thinking. Portia’s father, who created this test, tries to make an important point about greed and wealth through the message he left in the golden box. Portia’s father tests his daughter’s suitors on their greed by making the gold box an incorrect choice, clearly stating that life is about more than wealth.
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