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The Merchant of Venice | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Act 2, Scene 9

Professor Regina Buccola of Roosevelt University provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Act 2, Scene 9 of William Shakespeare's play The Merchant of Venice.

The Merchant of Venice | Act 2, Scene 9 | Summary



The Prince of Arragon attempts the challenge of choosing between the three caskets to find Portia's portrait and win her hand. He reiterates the conditions of accepting the challenge: If he loses, he can never reveal which casket he chose, and he may never seek to marry another woman. He considers the inscription on the lead casket, "Who chooseth me must give and hazard all he hath," and dismisses the lead casket right away because it is not beautiful. He looks at the gold casket, "what many men desire" and decides it is foolish to follow the "multitude that choose by show." He does not want to be associated with the common man. He looks at the silver casket that promises "as much as he deserves" and decides he deserves the wealth and privilege he has, so he chooses the casket he deserves as well. Inside is a portrait of a fool and a message telling him his judgment is foolish. The Prince of Arragon departs unhappily as a messenger arrives to announce the approach of "a young Venetian." Portia is excited, hoping it is Bassanio, and Nerissa prays for the same thing.


The Prince of Arragon does not deliberate over the caskets as long as the Prince of Morocco does in Act 2, Scene 7. Like the Prince of Morocco he dismisses the lead casket almost immediately, and at the end of the scene the audience knows by the process of elimination that the lead casket is the correct one. Also like the Prince of Morocco, the Prince of Arragon is driven by a sense of ego and entitlement. He chooses the casket that appeals most directly to his ego, the one that promises what he deserves. Even though he avoids the Prince of Morocco's mistake by acknowledging the folly of "choosing by show," this wisdom comes from a haughty desire to separate himself from other men because he feels superior to them.

Bassanio's approach at the end of the scene foreshadows his success at the challenge and creates dramatic irony. Now Portia knows the answer to her father's riddle if she did not before, and the audience knows the answer as well. It makes sense that Bassanio will choose the casket not yet chosen. Even though the characters do not know the outcome of Bassanio's suit yet, the audience has a good idea.

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