1 March 2012
A Game of Caskets, Morals, and Men
Lessons Learned in The Merchant of Venice
Although the play’s title leads readers to believe its contents to surround Antonio, rather the play surrounds a hated and despised Shylock the Jew. However, as Shakespeare so often does, several scenes are placed almost haphazardly within the conflict and turmoil building amongst the main characters. Often readers question the scenes appropriateness and necessity to the play’s progression, and struggle to create connections to the play’s main conflict and following resolution. The casket scenes regarding the betrothal of the beautiful Portia in The Merchant of Venice play the role of the sources of confusion. Although the game of caskets seemingly represents Shakespeare’s dynamics on love and marriage, the game is really a lesson in human morality, judgment, and tribulations. The lesson learned through Portia’s three suitors is invaluable to the play as well as human life. Shakespeare’s ability to recognize and understand the true nature of man is seen throughout the works of his career, and The Merchant of Venice is in essence a depiction of men judging one another superficially. The three caskets present three versions of common human rationales. As each suitor presents himself for the game, the audience is led through his thought process and ultimate decision. The first suitor, Morocco, refuses the casket of lead and claims “[a] gold mind stoops not to shows of dross. / I’ll then [neither] give nor hazard [anything] for lead” (2.7. 20-21). Morocco will not risk anything for the mere hopes of gaining only as valuable as lead. Morocco, so far, is immensely materialistic. He next contemplates the silver casket. Morocco weighs his “value with an even hand” and decides his worth “by thy estimation / […] dost deserve enough” (2.7.25, 26-27). Morocco’s own self-affirmation does not allow him to stoop to choose silver. Instead, he...