The Merchant of Venice: Portia's Suitors

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Compare and contrast Portia's three suitors, examining their characters
Shakespeare highlights three of Portia's suitors, the Prince of Morocco, the Prince of Arragon and Bassanio. He does this to heighten dramatic tension, as these three men are the most important candidates to win Portia's hand in marriage. They reveal the contents of the three caskets and their different characters as exposed as being proud, vain and humble. They also emphasise the racial prejudices of Venice a place where many races clash. Their attitudes towards the caskets and their choices indicate what their character is like. This essay will compare and contrast the three suitors and will explore how Shakespeare influences the audience's attitudes towards the three men.

The Prince of Morocco is the first suitor of the three suitors we are introduced to. His first line is, ‘Mislike me not for my complexion' (Act II Scene i)

He is anxious to compensate for the colour of his skin. He shows himself to be ashamed and insecure. However his character is proud because after he remarks on his skin colour he proceeds to defend it and boasts about himself, ‘ ...this aspect of mine/ Hath fear'd the valiant…The best regarded virgins of our clime/Have lov'd it too...' (Act II Scene i)

He challenges Portia to compare his blood with the whitest of men to see whose is the reddest. ‘Bring me the fairest creature…And let us make incision for your love/ To prove whose blood is reddest, or mine.' (Act II Scene i)

This would be a way to suggest that Morocco was as noble as any white man was because red blood signified courage and virility. A lot of emphasis is placed on Morocco's skin colour. His long-winded speeches full of false and extravagant praise makes him sound insincere, ‘…all the world desires her; /From all corners of the earth they come,/ To kiss this shrine, this mortal breathing saint:' (Act II Scene vii) In contrast his exit is short and dignified, in total disparity to his entrance and long speeches before choosing a casket. ‘…I have too griev'd a heart /To take a tedious leave: leave losers part.' (Act II Scene vii) This indicates he does not easily accept defeat.


He explains his thoughts on each of the caskets as he reads the inscriptions on them. He says the lead casket is not worth hazarding everything for and quickly dismisses it. When he comes to the silver casket he comments, ‘Thou dost deserve enough and yet enough/May not extend so far as to the lady:' (Act II Scene vii).

He exposes his secret fear that he does not deserve Portia. He considers silver not to be grand enough for Portia and dismisses this casket also. He settles upon the gold casket thinking that ‘what many men desire' describes Portia. His choice can be explained by the fact that it is only his royal blood and his fortune that lends him respect from the people of Venice. His riches are very important to him. From this we can say that Morocco represents sensual love, a desire for physical pleasures as oppose to those of the mind. This means Morocco judges on outward appearances. The quotation, ‘All that glisters is not gold' befits his character which is insecure and shallow.

The second suitor is the Prince of Arragon whose entrance unlike Morocco's is not pre-empted by any comments from Portia. His arrogance and pride are shown through his choice of casket and his reaction to choosing the wrong casket. He comments on the inscription of gold casket, ‘…I will not jump with common spirits/And rank me with barbarous multitudes.' (Act II Scene ix)

and thinking gold was too common for him he arrogantly discards it. He does not even stop to contemplate the lead casket saying only that it would have to look more attractive for him to hazard anything for it. The silver casket is the one that appeals to him the most because he feels...
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