After hearing Shylock's bitter diatribe, Salarino and Solanio head off to meet with Antonio, just as Tubal, a Jewish friend of Shylock’s, enters. Tubal announces that he cannot find Jessica. Shylock rants against his daughter, and he wishes her dead as he bemoans his losses. He is especially embittered when Tubal reports that Jessica has taken a ring—given to Shylock in his bachelor days by a woman named Leah, presumably Jessica’s mother—and has traded that ring for a monkey. Shylock’s spirits brighten, however, when Tubal reports that Antonio’s ships have run into trouble and that Antonio’s creditors are certain Antonio is ruined.
Back in Belmont, Portia begs Bassanio to delay choosing between the caskets for a day or two. If Bassanio chooses incorrectly, Portia reasons, she will lose his company. Bassanio insists that he make his choice now, to avoid prolonging the torment of living without Portia as his wife. Portia orders that music be played while her love makes his choice, and she compares Bassanio to the Greek hero Hercules. Like the suitors who have come before him, Bassanio carefully examines the three caskets and puzzles over their inscriptions. He rejects the gold casket, saying that “The world is still deceived with ornament,” while the silver he deems a “pale and common drudge / ’Tween man and man.” After much debate, Bassanio picks the lead casket, which he opens to reveal Portia’s portrait, along with a poem congratulating him on his choice and confirming that he has won Portia’s hand.
The happy couple promises one another love and devotion, and Portia gives Bassanio a ring that he must never part with, saying his removal of it will signify the end of his love for her. Nerissa and Gratiano congratulate them and confess that they too have fallen in love with one another. They suggest a double wedding. Lorenzo and Jessica arrive in the midst of this rejoicing, along with Salarino, who gives a letter to Bassanio. In the letter, Antonio writes that all of his ships are lost, and that Shylock plans to collect his pound of flesh. The news provokes a fit of guilt in Bassanio, which in turn prompts Portia to offer to pay twenty times the sum. Jessica, however, worries that her father is more interested in revenge than in money. Bassanio reads out loud the letter from Antonio, who asks only for a brief reunion before he dies. Portia urges her husband to rush to his friend’s aid, and Bassanio leaves for Venice.
Shylock escorts the bankrupt Antonio to prison. Antonio pleads with Shylock to listen, but Shylock refuses. Remembering the many times Antonio condemned him as a dog, Shylock advises the merchant to beware of his bite. Assured that the duke will grant him justice, Shylock insists that he will have his bond and tells the jailer not to bother speaking to him of mercy. Solanio declares that Shylock is the worst of men, and Antonio reasons that the Jew hates him for bailing out many of Shylock’s debtors. Solanio attempts to comfort Antonio by suggesting that the duke will never allow such a ridiculous contract to stand, but Antonio is not convinced. Venice, Antonio claims, is a wealthy trading city with a great reputation for upholding the law, and if the duke breaks that law, Venice’s economy may suffer. As Solanio departs, Antonio prays desperately that Bassanio will arrive to “see me pay his debt, and then I care not.”
A FEW HIGHLIGHTS OF OUR READING
So Tubal tells Shylock that Jessica sold a turquoise ring (possibly a ring very dear to Shylock, that of Jessica's deceased mother) to buy a monkey. Kristin told us that at the time the play was written, it was very fashionable for the ladies of the in-crowd to have monkeys as pets. So it sounds like Jessica was spending lots of money to deck herself out like an upscale Christian lady.
Unless! As John Cheek pointed out. . . Could Tubal have been padding the bill he presented to Shylock? Could Tubal have been embellishing the tales he was telling Shylock about Jessica? (Since Tubal's telling does not jive with what we've seen of Jessica. . .) Something to think about.
Tubal says that Jessica spent fourscore (80) ducats in one night. That would be roughly the equivalent of $3,650 today (estimating the value of a ducat at about $45).
Bassanio is the only suitor for whom Portia has music played. And the song just happens to start out with each line ending in words that rhyme with not gold, not silver, but . . .
Tell me where is fancy bred,We also noticed that the very first thing Portia says to him includes a word that's on one of the caskets ("Who chooseth me must give and hazard all he hath.")
Or in the heart, or in the head?
How begot, how nourished?
I pray you, tarry: pause a day or twoKind of hard not to think that Portia is sending Bassanio some big hints. . .
Before you hazard . . .
Word of the Week that Does Not Mean What You Think it Means
excrement - outgrowth, esp of hair
How many cowards, whose hearts are all as false
As stairs of sand, wear yet upon their chins
The beards of Hercules and frowning Mars;
Who, inward search'd, have livers white as milk;
And these assume but valour's excrement
To render them redoubted!
—Bassanio, speaking of appearances
All the Best Buskers Are Doing It
So are those crisped snaky golden locksIn Shakespeare's day, buskers were the folks who created and styled wigs. In order for Portia's hair to be "crisped and snaky," it would probably have been crimped with an iron and held in place with wax or gum.
Which make such wanton gambols with the wind. . .
—Bassanio, referencing Portia's hair
Portia Gets Giddy
Beshrew your eyes,
They have o'erlook'd me and divided me;
One half of me is yours, the other half yours,
Mine own, I would say; but if mine, then yours,
And so all yours.
—Portia, trying to ask Bassanio to wait before guessing which casket her portrait is in
Watch Out for Those Thieving Eyeballs!
The painter plays the spider and hath woven* * *
A golden mesh to entrap the hearts of men,
Faster than gnats in cobwebs; but her eyes,—
How could he see to do them? having made one,
Methinks it should have power to steal both his
And leave itself unfurnish'd.
—Bassanio, gushing over the portrait of Portia he finds in the casket
That's enough for now, but join us next time, as we pick up with Act 3, scene 4.
And remember, we're not meeting this Sunday, since it's Easter. See you Sunday, April 15!
Photo: Is it just me, or does Bassanio (Joseph Feines, in the 2004 film version of Merchant of Venice) look a little cross-eyed here, as he tries to decide which casket to choose?