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Merchant of Venice, E1r

Editorial note

This edited version of page E1R of Merchant of Venice has been altered to emphasize certain characteristics of the Prince of Arragon, and how they contribute to his decision to pick the silver casket. The colors of the text correlate what the prince is saying to Portia to the casket that he is referring to. The text colored gold outlines his thinking in not picking the gold casket, and the silver text refers to the silver casket. His choice to go for the silver casket is what caused him to lose Portia's hand, even though he thought he was making the most logical choice. The blue text is all related to him believing that he deserves something. Deserving is a very Christian ideal, whereas if you do what is right you will get the rewards you deserve for it, derived from the belief in Heaven and Hell. The prince clearly comes in believing that he deserves to have Portia, but he doesn't get her. His foolish notion of deserving relates to his arrogance ("Arragon" is quite similar to "arrogant") and it is what causes him to choose the silver like a "foole."

1Builds in the weather on the outward wall,
Euen in the force and rode of casualty.
I will not choose what many men desire, 2
Because I will not iumpe with common spirits,
And ranke me with the barbarous multitudes.
Why then to thee thou siluer treasure house,3
Tell me once more what title thou doost beare;
Who chooseth me shall get as much as he deserues, 4
And well sayde to; for who shall goe about
To cosen Fortune, and be honourable
without the stampe of merrit, let none presume
To weare an vndeserued dignity:
O that estates, degrees, and offices,
were not deriu'd corruptly, and that cleare honour
were purchast by the merrit of the wearer,
How many then should couer that stand bare?
How many be commaunded that commaund?
How much low peasantry would then be gleaned
From the true seede of honour? and how much honour
Pickt from the chaft and ruin of the times,
To be new varnist; well but to my choise.
Who chooseth me shall get as much as he deserues,
I will assume desert; giue me a key for this,
And instantly vnlocke my fortunes here.
    Portia. Too long a pause for that which you finde there.
    Arrag. What's heere, the pourtrait of a blinking idiot
Presenting me a shedule, I will reade it:
How much vnlike art thou to Portia?
How much vnlike my hopes and my deseruings.
Who chooseth me, shall haue as much as he deserues?
Did I deserue no more then a fooles head, 5
Is that my prize, are my deserts no better?
     Portia. To offend and iudge are distinct offices,
And of opposed natures.
     Arrag. What is heere?
The fier seauen times tried this,
Seauen times tried that iudement is, 6

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.

Citing this page: Shakespeare, William. The Merchant of Venice, E1r. London: 1600. Cacodemon Digital Shakespeare. Edited by Meghan Odell and Isabel Galella. Source edition: Rare Books & Manuscripts Department, Boston Public Library (copy G.176.16).



  1. Prince Arragon speaking; abbreviated "Arrag."
  2. Represents how he wants to distance himself from an obsession with wealth and contrasts him to the Prince of Morrocco.
  3. referring to Prince Arragon's selection of the silver casket. 
  4.  The word "deserves" (represented as "deserues" highlighted with blue text) is repeated four times throughout this singular page. This can be read as Arragon's relationship with the common notion that all Christians "deserve" a place in heaven and are therefore inherently righteous. While he tries to appear humble for refusing to choose the gold casket, the blue highlighted "deserves" is evidence that he believes he is deserving of Portia's hand.
  5. Arragon is shocked when his choice reveals a fool's head. His arrogance has led him to believe that his choice was deeply thoughtful, and therefore correct, making him deserving of more than the mark of an Idiot. 
  6. This can be read as a reference to the Seven Deadly Sins, greed being one the seven as well as pride. Sinful behavior would deny or threaten a Christian's opportunity to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. This plays on Christian hypocrisy, Arragon embodies Christian entitlement which is highlighted by the use of the word "deserves", however he simultaneously represents the cardinal sin of vanity. While the Prince of Morrocco may represent greed for his choice of the gold casket, Prince Arragon's choice of casket may represent pride, or arrogance. This arrogance results in Prince Arragon being the fool.