This digital edition of C1r focuses on the hostile but simultaneously complementary dynamics of the cultures of the North Africans/Middle Easterners, the Romans, and the Christians. References to important historical figures will be bolded with a definition/analyzation note attached. Understanding these references to the specific historical figures and who is referencing them are particularly key into understanding the complex relations between the cultures and characters within The Merchant of Venice. In particular, our analyzations focus on Morocco and how he uses Roman and Middle Eastern cultures to analyze the foreign, white Christian culture he is in. Specifically, he projects himself on Roman/Middle Eastern/North African figures in order to reveal his alienated state within the rules of the Christian culture of Portia's father's lottery.
The appearance of the original text has been maintained to provide an opportunity for readers to receive an opportunity to familiarize themselves with older texts. To help newer Shakespearean fans, alternative spellings will be highlighted in red such as chaunce. A blue key has been provided for letters such as the long s [ſ]. Hopefully this will facilitate a more enjoyable translation of The Merchant of Venice while also immersing the reader into the time period, making historical references slightly easier to transition into.
ſ = s
u = v
v = u
the Merchant of Venice
And hedgd me by his wit to yeeld my ſelfe
His wife, who winnes me by that means I told you,
Your ſelfe (renowned Prince) than ſtoode as faire1
As any commer I haue look’d on yet
For my affection
Mor. Euen for that I thanke you,
Therefore I pray you leade me to the Caskets
To try my fortune: By this Symitare
That flewe the Sophy2, and a Perſian Prince3
That wone three fields of Sultan Solyman4,
I would ore-ſtare the ſterneſt eyes that looke:
Out-braue the hart moſt daring on the earth:
Pluck the young ſucking Cubs from the ſhe Beare,
Yea, mock the Lyon when a rores for pray
To win the Lady. But alas, the while
If Hercules and Lychas5 play at dice
Which is the better man, the greater throw
May turne by fortune from the weaker hand6:
So is Alcides7 beaten by his rage,
And ſo may I, blind Fortune leading me
Miſſe that which one vnworthier may attaine,
And die with greeuing.
Portia. You muſt take your chaunce,
And eyther not attempt to chooſe at all,
Or ſweare before you chooſe, if you ſhoose wrong
Neuer to ſpeak to Lady afterward
In way of marriage, therefore be aduiſ’d.
Mor. Nor will not, come bring me vnto my chaunce.
Portia. Firſt forward to the temple, after dinner
Your hazard ſhall be made.
To make me bleſt or curſed’ſt among men.
Enter the Clowne alone.
Clowne. Certainely, my conſcience will ſerue me to runne from
this Iewe my Maiſter: the fiend is at mine elbow, and tempts me,
ſaying to me, Iobe, Launcelet Iobbe, good Launcelet, or good Iobbe,
Map of the Ottoman Empire 15th-17th Century
Ottoman Empire. 15th-17th c. Artstor, library-artstor-org.ezproxy.neu.edu/asset/ARTSTOR_103_41822000287167
Image credit: Rare Books & Manuscripts Department, Boston Public Library, copy G.176.16. The most excellent historie of the merchant of Venice. First Quarto. London: 1600.
Caldwell, Ellen M. "Opportunistic Portia as Fortuna in Shakespeare's "Merchant of Venice"." Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900 54.2 (2014): 349-73. Web.
Hall, K. F. (1992). Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? Colonization and Miscegenation in" The Merchant of Venice". Renaissance Drama, 23, 87-111.
Kitishat, Amal Riyadh. "The image of Muslims in the Elizabethan Drama." Research Journal of social Science and Management 1.9 (2012): 65-70.
Smarr, Janet Levarie. "Boccaccio and the Choice of Hercules." MLN 92.1 (1977): 146-152.
Ungerer, Gustav. “Portia and the Prince of Morocco.” Shakespeare Studies (0582-9399), vol. 31, Jan. 2003, pp. 89–126. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&AuthType=ip,shib&db=hlh&AN=11027106&site=ehost-live&scope=site.
Citing this page: Shakespeare, William. The Merchant of Venice, C1r. London: 1600. Cacodemon Digital Shakespeare. Edited by Aesha, Nathalie, Liz. Source edition: Rare Books & Manuscripts Department, Boston Public Library (copy G.176.16). http://cacodemonshakespeare.com/comedies/merchant/c1r.
- Although Portia feels it necessary to point out that the lottery is fair, the usage of "fair" would signal otherwise. It is evident, in her tone and even words that she is not particularly fond of Morocco's skin color but hides it behind her hatred for her father's lottery. This is a result of cultural clashes between the white Christians and the Islamic Moors as the two religions and two races were always at odds due to differences in both beliefs and skin color. The usage of "fair" hints that even though technically Morocco has an equal chance with blind luck, the game, as seen later by Portia's sly skewing of the game, that it favors white Christians (Bassanio) in this predominantly white Christian Venice. This leaves Morocco once again being ousted in this foreign culture due to the clashing of his own culture.
- Turkish Shah
- In the 16th century the Ottoman Empire neighbored Morocco, as it extended all the way to Egypt and most of the African coasts bordering the Mediterranean Sea (see map below). This demonstrates a bit of the Moroccan culture being influenced by the Ottoman Empire as Morocco, Prince of Morocco, references a Central Asian sword (the scimitar), the Sophy and Persian Prince (Shah and Prince of Persia) and Sultan Solyman (a Turkish ruler) are all referenced by Morocco, who is from North Africa.
- The Ottoman Empire stretched out and occupied much of North Africa; however, they never occupied Morocco. Morocco references the tale of his scimitar sleighing powerful men from Persia and Turkey (parts of the Ottoman Empire), to show that he now wields the same power the sword had won from some of the most powerful rulers of one of the most powerful empires at the time (c.16th century.). In this he is attempting to compensate with proof of his bravery/strength to a Christian Portia for his undesired race. Nonetheless, these valiant tales are obsolete in a culture in which these traits are not valued as highly. There is a clash in the luck culture of Christians and the conqueror culture of Morocco
- Morocco is alluding to Hercules (the inhumanely strong Roman demigod turned god) and Lychas (Hercules' servant). In this metaphor, Morocco is projecting himself as Hercules, Portia's other suitors as Lychas, and the lottery as a game of dice. He, like Hercules, views himself as incredibly brave and strong, which he hopes compensates for his undesired race. However, even the strongest of gods can fall prey to luck, and in this case, Morocco is subject to the blind luck of the lottery. In this, he reveals his weakness, possibly hoping to win sympathy from a prejudice Portia as he knows Portia's white Christianity clashes with his Islamic background. He uses ancient Roman mythology to connect to Portia on neutral grounds, yet is still slightly connected to the now Christian Rome's past.
- Due to Morocco's extended metaphor, one can further connect the game of dice to the differences between Christian and Morocco's and even extended to Shylock's Judaism. Christianity is established to have gambling deep rooted in its culture. Most Christian characters believe in betting everything to luck in hopes of gaining more. In contrast, other cultures seem to struggle with this aspect. Shylock has previously expressed is unwillingness to loan to Antonio, knowing the odds of the loan not being paid off would be uncertain. Here, Morocco demonstrates his own qualms about blind luck through his Roman metaphor. His diction leans towards viewing blind luck as a weakness to even the strongest, which foreshadows his own "downfall" within this game of chance.
- Alternative name for Hercules (Greek Heracles)