Close Reading/Merchant of Venice
Arrogance Shows No Mercy
William Shakespeare’s plays seemingly have a moral, warning, and/or cautions his audiences against self-inflicted tragedy and fastidiously does so in his play Merchant of Venice. Though the primary consensus is a lesson in “the quality of mercy” (4.1. 184), the audience is also given a lesson of the consequences that befall one under the premise of arrogance. First, there is Antonio’s “attitude of superiority” to Shylock (Merriam-Webster). Also, Morocco’s belief that by a “birth” rite he deserves to marry Portia because of his “qualities of breeding” (2.7. 32, 33). Moreover, arrogance is epitomized in act two scene nine as Arrogon’s unpleasant behavior due to his exaggerated opinion of his merit and capacity to choose the casket with Portia’s portrait thusly, receiving “as much as he deserves” (2.9. 36).
Merchant of Venice: 2.9. 19-51.
And so have I address'd me. Fortune now
To my heart's hope! Gold; silver; and base lead. 20 'Who chooseth me must give and hazard all he hath.'
You shall look fairer, ere I give or hazard.
What says the golden chest? ha! let me see:
'Who chooseth me shall gain what many men desire.'
What many men desire! that 'many' may be meant 25 By the fool multitude, that choose by show,
Not learning more than the fond eye doth teach;
Which pries not to the interior, but, like the martlet,
Builds in the weather on the outward wall,
Even in the force and road of casualty.
I 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:
'Who chooseth me shall get as much as he deserves:'
And well said too; for who shall go about
To cozen fortune and be honourable
Without the stamp of merit? Let none presume
To wear an undeserved dignity.
O, that estates, degrees and offices
Were not derived corruptly, and that clear honour
Were purchased by the merit of the wearer!
How many then should cover that stand bare!
How many be commanded that command!
How much low peasantry would then be glean'd
From the true seed of honour! and how much honour
Pick'd from the chaff and ruin of the times
To be new-varnish'd! Well, but to my choice:
'Who chooseth me shall get as much as he deserves.'
I will assume desert. Give me a key for this,
And instantly unlock my fortunes here.
In the ninth scene of the second act Arrogon devalues Portia because of his belief that she “shall look fairer” (22) before he is to “hazard all he [has]” (21) diminishing not only her beauty but, her worth in comparison to himself. Arrogon then ponders over the inscription of the gold casket. He contemplates the meaning that the “‘many’” possibly refers to a “fool multitude that choose by show / Not learning more than the fond eye doth teach” (25, 26, and 27). Interestingly, Shakespeare feels the need to emphasize the word and meaning of fool as, according to the notes in The Riverside Shakespeare, fond also means fool. Additionally, cited in the notes of the Furness edition, Shakespeare similarly emphasizes fool earlier in the play, in act one scene one lines 99-102, when Gratiano speaks to Antonio telling him only “fool gudgeon” (102) would believe the slanders of his reputation because when “[heard…would call [those slanderers] fools” (99). Not only does this accentuate the imprudent choice Arrogon makes but stresses that arrogance generates a foolish selection whether it be devising the worth of someone else or oneself.
As gudgeon are an easily tempt-able fish (Riverside 289) and fish travel in schools, or multitudes, Arrogon is the equating “fool multitudes” to men be easily lured by desire. He immediately denounces the gold chest because he “will not jump, [or...
Cited: “Act 1, Scene 1.” The Tragedy of King Lear. The Riverside Shakespeare. Ed. G. Blakemore Evans. 2nd ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company. 1997. 1069-1074. Print.
Horwich, Richard. Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900. Vol. 17, No. 2. Elizabethan and Jacobean Drama. Rice University. (Spring, 1977). 191-192. Web. 22 Oct. 2014.
The Merchant of Venice. Folders Shakespeare Library. Ed. Barbara A. Mowat. New York: Washington Square. 1992. Print.
The Merchant of Venice. The Riverside Shakespeare. Ed. G. Blakemore Evans. 2nd ed.
Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company. 1997. 288-317. Print.
The Merchant of Venice. Ed. Horace Howard Furness. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippencott
Company. 1895. Google Books. Web. 19 May 2011.
The Merchant of Venice. The Globe Illustrated Shakespear. Ed.Howard Staunton. New York: Greenwich House.1983. 389-436. Print.
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