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Melissa Tyndall ENG 3150 Merchant of Venice March 1, 2004 Layers Below the Surface: The Prince of Morocco,

Bassanio, and Casket Selection Many scholars would cringe if the clich, Dont judge a book by its cover was uttered within the walls of a college classroom. However, the misleading belief that beauty equates to goodness or godliness is a prominent aspect in literature that is frequently dissected. A major theme in William Shakespeares The Merchant of Venice, is that outward appearances (of all kinds) are deceptive. The Prince of Morocco and Bassanios respective casket selections further the theme of outward appearances by illustrating the difference between arrogant self-worth and the altruistic nature of true love and acceptance. The casket selections also act as foils to the surface-based prejudices regarding race, religion, and gender within the play (demonstrated through Shylocks religion, the Prince of Moroccos race, and Portias gender). Prior to the Prince of Moroccos erroneous selection of the gold casket, he is plainspoken about his opinions, Men that hazard all / Do it in hope of fair advantages (2.7.18-19). It is painstakingly obvious in lines that the Prince of Morocco seeks Portia to benefit his pocket rather than his heart. To the Moor, Portia is a place of pilgrimage, an inanimate object to plunder in order to fulfil his insatiable appetite for the monetary and the superficial. Shakespeare utilizes the Prince of Morocco preferring the gold casket and wanting to acquire what many men desire to exemplify that the Moor is not unique and cannot offer anything substantial to Portia in comparison to any other man who might arrive from the four corners of the earth (2.7.3739). On the other hand, Bassanios selection of the lead casket is pre-empted by his profound and dauntless love for Portia. Bassanios first few lines in Act 3, Scene 2,

Melissa Tyndall ENG 3150 Merchant of Venice March 1, 2004 denote his commitment and sincerity by revealing to Portia that he would be willing to undergo a happy torment in order to convey his sentiments (3.2.37). Bassanio is aware that beauty extends outward from an internal place and that, The world is still decievd with ornament (3.2.74). Bassanio states that beauty is purchasd by the weight, alluding to the philosophy that like weight, beauty comes from within (3.2.89). It is the awareness that those who seek an asset (rather than an emotion) desire something of little validity that provides Bassanio with the correct choice in respect to the casket made of lead (an element of a higher atomic weight than gold). Shakespeare employs this as a literary and moral tactic to drive home the inscription on the scroll that lies within the golden casketAll that glisters is not gold (2.7.65). The two casket selections prove that love has worth and the artificial is simply an entrapment that caters to the greed embedded within the nature of human beings. The Prince of Morocco and Bassanios individual casket selections also act as foils to other aspects of the play in order to emphasize the surface-based prejudices regarding race, religion, and gender within The Merchant of Venice. Shakespeare uses the caskets as a metaphor to represent the mainstream perspective of that particular time period in relation to Shylock, the Prince of Morocco, and Portias place within society. The first instance pertains to Shylocks Jewish faith as well as the Prince of Moroccos race and religion. Considering the play was inspired by the real-life events surrounding the banishment of the Jewish people from England when Edward the I reigned the throne, it is plausible that Shakespeare used the gold and lead caskets to imply that the people of London were only scratching the surface of what Jewish people were and not who they were. Similarly, the Prince of Morocco would have been from Africa during a time which

Melissa Tyndall ENG 3150 Merchant of Venice March 1, 2004 the capital of Morocco, Fez, would have been a religious and cultural Mecca for those of the Islamic faith. Though Africa (which is reflected in the foolish casket choice of the Moroccan prince) has been a prime provider of gold, the race and religion of the prince would have been unacceptable during a time in which Europe was attempting to convert its inhabitants to Christianity and Catholicismthis being the reason why Bassanio, the Christian, won Portia. In addition, the progression of suitors choosing caskets refers back to the situation in regard to Portias limited amount of rights as a Venetian woman during that time period. This method of acquiring a husband illustrates that it is a man that paves Portias future. In addition, the theme that appearances can be deceiving is ultimately personified and foiled by the choice of the three caskets when Portia and Nerissa disguise themselves as men. The suitors based their love and desire for Portia on her physical attributes. It is only when the two women conceal their outward beauty and appearance that they are appreciated for their intellectan internal quality. The Merchant of Venice clearly indicates that the perception beauty is perfection is an intrinsically flawed philosophy. The outward appearance of the caskets, as well as the characters in the Shakespearean play, demonstrate the mistakes which are often made when one is dependent upon external design. The subtext of the play suggests that if the judgmental and superficial aspects of human nature are pushed aside, if one is willing to sacrifice all he hath, then it will be possible to obtain what is desired.