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The Merchant of Venice - Extract 2
Bassanio borrowed 3000 ducats.

The Merchant of Venice - Extract 2

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This is the second of two senior high school English Literature extract questions for The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare. It takes place in the third act, almost at the center of the play. In this passage, Bassanio achieves the goal for which he had borrowed 3000 ducats, the great sum for which Antonio has pledged a pound of flesh to Shylock. Bassanio, unlike Portia’s many other suitors from near and far, solves the puzzle set by Portia’s father.

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BASSANIO: Thus ornament is but the guilèd shore
To a most dangerous sea, the beauteous scarf
Veiling an Indian beauty; in a word,
The seeming truth which cunning times put on
To entrap the wisest. [ Aloud ] Therefore, thou gaudy gold,
Hard food for Midas, I will none of thee.
[ To the silver casket ] Nor none of thee, thou pale and common drudge
‘Tween man and man. But thou, thou meager lead,
Which rather threaten’st than dost promise aught,
Thy paleness moves me more than eloquence,
And here choose I. Joy be the consequence!

PORTIA [ aside ]: How all the other passions fleet to air,
As doubtful thoughts, and rash-embraced despair,
And shudd’ring fear, and green-eyed jealousy.
O love, be moderate! Allay thy ecstasy.
In measure rain thy joy; scant this excess.
I feel too much thy blessing: make it less,
For fear I surfeit.

[BASSANIO opens the leaden casket ]

BASSANIO: What find I here?
Fair Portia’s counterfeit. What demi-god
Hath come so near creation? Move these eyes?
Of whether, riding on the balls of mine,
Seem they in motion? Here are severed lips
Parted with sugar breath. So sweet a bar
Should sunder such sweet friends. Here in her hairs
The painter plays the spider, and hath woven
A golden mesh t’untrap 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 unfurnished. Yet look how far
The substance of my praise doth wrong this shadow
In underprizing it, so far this shadow
Doth limp behind the substance. Here’s the scroll,
The continent and summary of my fortune.
“You that choose not by the view
Chance as fair and choose as true.
Since this fortune falls to you,
Be content, and seek no new.
If you be well pleased with this,
And hold your fortune for your bliss,
Turn you where your lady is,
And claim her with a loving kiss.”
A gentle scroll. Fair lady, by your leave,
I come by note to give and to receive,
Like one of two contending in a prize,
That thinks he hath done well in people’s eyes,
Hearing applause and universal shout,
Giddy in spirit, still gazing in a doubt
Whether those peals of praise be his or no.
So, thrice-fair lady, stand I even so,
As doubtful whether what I see be true
Until confirmed, signed, ratified by you.

PORTIA: You see me, Lord Bassanio, where I stand.
Such as I am.

William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice (Norton, 2008)
What is the immediate context of this passage?
Shylock has just vowed vengeance on Antonio
Portia and Nerissa have disguised themselves as men
Antonio has been brought to court
Shylock has just lent money to Antonio
This scene immediately follows the scene in which Shylock's distress at the news of his daughter mingles with his delight in the news of Antonio's misfortunes
What immediately follows this excerpt?
Tubal goes in search of Jessica
Graziano gives away his ring
Portia sends a message to Bellario
Bassanio receives a letter telling of Antonio's lost ships
Joy is short-lived. The cost of Bassanio's great gamble becomes apparent in Antonio's letter
Bassanio feels fairly confident in his gamble. Which of the following statements expresses this mixture of hope and confidence?
"Thy paleness moves me more than eloquence"
"Yet look how far / The substance of my praise doth wrong this shadow"
"What demi-god / Hath come so near creation?"
"And here choose I. Joy be the consequence!"
Bassanio is confident in his rejection of the gold and silver caskets. He entrusts himself to fortune with his wish for joy
"Nor none of thee, thou pale and common drudge / ‘Tween man and man." What does Bassanio describe and reject in these lines?
The gold casket
The silver casket
The lead casket
The portrait of Portia
Silver is a "common drudge" because it is a servant, passed from hand to hand as currency
"In measure rain thy joy; scant this excess." To whom or what does Portia speak in these lines?
Porita tells love to be "moderate". She is afraid to feel too much
What is "fair Portia's counterfeit"?
The scroll
Her portrait
The golden mesh
Some gold coins
Bassanio refers to the image of Portia which has been placed in the casket
What is significant about the word "counterfeit"?
The use of the word raises questions about where value is located and how it can be recognized
The use of the word reminds the audience that the appearance of the caskets was deceptive
The use of the word reminds the audience that Bassanio seeks Portia's fortune
All of the above
The portrait, in Bassanio's view, is misleading and does not show Portia's true beauty. He compares it to counterfeit money which is made to appear like genuine currency, but holds no value
"Here are severed lips / Parted with sugar breath. So sweet a bar / Should sunder such sweet friends." Which of the following states is emphasized in these lines?
Perfect contentment
Overabundant richness
"Severed", "parted", "bar" and "sunder" evoke a separation, perhaps even a violent separation. Why do you think these words appeal to Bassanio at this moment? If Portia's "sweet" lips were not separate, would she be able to speak? How does this idea relate to the rest of the play?
Bassanio turns his doubt into a game. He doubts his good fortune, the message in the scroll telling him that Portia is his, the counterfeit image and the evidence of his own eyes. How does Portia respond?
She dismisses his doubts as silly
She encourages him to trust in what he sees
She tells him to believe in what he hears
She encourages his doubt
Bassano later does not recognize his own wife in her disguise as Balthasar
Bassanio describes the scroll as the "continent and summary" of his fortune. "Continent" here means "container". What does the scroll contain?
Bassanio's right to Portia's estate
Bassanio's right to marry Portia
All of the above
The scroll literally contains words and the words enact Bassanio's good fortune. Can you think of any other examples of words having such a powerful effect in the play?
Author:  Sheri Smith

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