The casket scene is a set up for Portia to pick her husband to be. This was the way that her father wanted her husband to be picked. The one who chooses the casket with a portrait of Portia in it is the suitor that will marry her. These scenes can be looked at on two different levels. One being boring and predictable and the other that Shakespeare has clever contrived these scenes so that they are all different. It can be seen as boring and predicable firstly because of the order in which the caskets are chosen and who chooses them.
The three caskets are gold, silver and lead. The first suitor is the Prince of Morocco and he picks the gold casket because he is very materialistic and he thinks that it is obvious that Portia is worth as much as gold as he says “never so rich a gem was set in worse than gold” in other words he feels that Portia’s portrait is worthy of being in the gold casket. He feels that he deserves Portia because he is a Prince.
The inscription on this casket also attracts him to it, “who chooseth me shall gain what many men desire. ” He only relate to her as having lots of money and being desired by many men. I think that the audience knows that this trial could not be that easy and that Portia’s portrait is obviously not going be in the most attractive casket and so this is not so much as a disappointment when the prince finds out that he had chosen the wrong casket when he finds a skull and scroll in the casket and not Portia’s portrait.
This is Shakespeare emphasising that what us the outside may not be what is on the inside, “all that glistens is not gold” but this is ironic because earlier the prince told Portia not to judge him on his appearance because of his dark skin. It begins to become more predictable when the second suitor comes along and once again he is a prince. The prince of Aragon predictably chooses the second less worthless casket the silver casket.
The prince is judgmental of the lead casket calling it “base lead” as though it were worthless and below him. The inscription on the silver casket also draws him to it, “who chooseth me shall have as much as he deserves” he believes that because of what he has achieved so far in life that he rightfully should deserve Portia also because he has gained his recognition from the good things he has done and that he hasn’t done anything bad to gain this recognition which was what happened in Shakespearean days and also in society today.
Portia obviously doesn’t wan this Prince as a husband because when he opens the silver casket he remains silent for a few moment, Portia becomes apprehensive “too long a pause for which you find here” she does not know what is in the casket and she is desperate to find out. When she does find out that that he has chosen the wrong casket by there being a picture of a “blinking idiot” in it she shows no emotion or disappointment. So surprise, surprise her picture has to be in the lead casket.
When she hears that Bassanio is coming she becomes excited and it is at this point that I feel that at his point it becomes obvious to me that she will like him and he will pick the right casket and being the perfect gentleman as he appears to be or as Portia describes him as ‘Hercules’ to be her hero and to not judge on appearances which may be true as he calls the gold casket “gaudy casket” and he calls the silver casket “pale and common drudge” and low and behold he chooses the lead casket.
Portia is overwhelmed Yet for you, I would be trebled twenty times myself A thousand times more fair, ten thousand times More rich, that only to stand high in Your account. ” She would do anything to make him happy. Another way in which the casket scenes are boring is through the long drawn out speeches by all the suitors and Portia. Firstly the Prince of Morocco, he obviously likes Portia. In his lengthy speech he puts Portia on a pedestal and almost makes her seem better than what she is. His speech is full of religious diction, focusing on her appearance.
He sees her as something out of this world ‘heavenly picture’ ‘shrine’ he compares her to a gem and an angel. He repeats that she is ‘fair’ and calls her an ‘immortal breathing saint’. Portia doesn’t talk very much in this scene; this is probably because she doesn’t like him. This is also the case for the Prince of Aragon she projects no feelings towards these two men apart from when she has to for example she calls them both ‘noble’ but this is her putting on a front.
The Prince of Aragon’s speech is self -centered, full of snobbery and deceit for example, I will not choose what many men desire Because I will not jump with common spirits, And rank me with the barbarous multitudes” But with Bassanio Portia talks a lot with the longest speeches we have herd her say so far. She rambles on, and doesn’t make sense which adds to the boredom of these scenes. By Portia only expressing these long meaningless speeches it also gives the casket scenes a sense of variation which is one of the reasons why some critics feel that Shakespeare has cleverly contrived some variations in the casket scenes.
In the first two casket scenes Portia was not interested in the princes as soon as they arrived she wanted to get rid of them also in the first two casket scenes she makes a comment when they leave after choosing the wrong casket for the Prince of Morocco she says “a gentle riddance” and for the Prince of Aragon she comments “Thus hath the candle singed the moth. O, these deliberate fools! When they do choose They have their wisdom by their wit to lose” They also vary slightly in that the first two casket scenes are quite short, compared to the last one which is relatively long.
Through the presentation of themes, Shakespeare has enabled these casket scenes to vary from each other. In the first casket scene Shakespeare presents us with racism. Portia declares that she is not led by looks when the Prince of Morocco asks her not judge him in his dark skin, as she says, “yourself, renowned prince, then stood as fair As any comer I have looked on yet For my affection” But this is a front that she puts on to the prince so that he does not be offended. But when he has gone and has chosen the wrong casket she tell Nerissa, “Let all of his complexion choose me so. But even before she had even met him, she had only heard that he was from Morocco and she says “complexion of a devil” and “I would rather he shrive me than wive me” this theme gives originality to this casket scene with the prince of Morocco as she is not racist to the other suitors. The opposite happens to Bassanio, he is from Venice and so Portia cannot criticise him as she is of the same nationality as him. Another theme that come up in this casket scene is the idea that appearances can be deceptive.
The Prince of Morocco chooses the gold casket because he feels Portia picture is worthy of being in the gold casket. But the deception is that what is on the outside may not be what is on the inside comes into play here. This theme also appears in Act3 Scene 2 when Bassanio is deciding which casket to choose, he realises how appearances can be deceptive, unlike the Prince of Morocco. Bassanio expresses how appearances can be deceptive in Law, because people can put on a gracious voice and plea that they are innocent when they are guilty and some people may see them as innocent.
Religion can be deceptive, we are told to follow commandments but at the same time we are to told that God will love you no matter how bad your sins are, “What damned error but some brow will bless it”. Bassanio goes on to tell Portia how appearances can be deceptive in war, for example when soldiers go over the front to fight they put on a brave face to be strong but on the inside they are scared and gutless. Also soldiers tend to grow beard and this covers their facial features hiding their true selves.
Lastly he tells us how deception can be seen in beauty as, like beards, cosmetics cover up our true underlying nature. People can make themselves look beautiful with these cosmetics “workds a miracle in nature” “look on beauty you’ll see ’tis purchased on weight”. This is also Shakespeare’s way of saying no-one is perfect. Another theme that appears in both the prince of Morocco and Bassanio’s casket scene’s is the theme of materialism. The Prince chooses the gold casket for materialistic reasons and thinks that choosing any other casket would be below him and because the gold casket id the most valuable.
When it come to Bassanio, it is hard to tell id he is being materialistic but I think he is, because before he has met Portia her talks about her and says how she is a “lady richly left” he puts this statement before he talks about her appearance being “fair” But he contradicts himself when he says that the world is so materialistic, “the world is still deceived with ornament” This just shows that he is putting on a front to show Portia how much of a perfect men he is by not judging her on her wealth or being materialistic.
The three casket scenes also vary by exploring the characters differently. Firstly Portia, only in Act 3 Scene 2 with Bassanio, does she show her true colours, with long speeches and her attitude is not a front like with the Prince of Morocco and the Prince of Aragon, who she wanted to get rid of quickly and had to act socially correct with them, as I said earlier, we can see how Portia is racist with the Prince of Morocco.
Bassanio’s character becomes a bit muddled because of the contradictions that he says, and we cannot workout weather he is materialistic or not. But we certainly see how smart Bassanio is through his long speeches and his realisation of the appearances being deceptive. Through moral values each scene is varied. In act 2 Scene & with the Prince of Morocco, his moral value appears to be that he picked the gold casket was because of the idea that everything he wants has to be the best of the best. Like the way he praises Portia “mortal breathing saint” etc.
The Prince of Aragon’s choice of the silver casket was also led by his moral values he didn’t want to choose the lead casket because he felt that it was lower than him. He also dismissed the gold casket because he didn’t socially want to be like everyone else and desire what other men desire. I think that the casket scenes are more boring and predictable than cleverly contrived because on reading the scenes I felt that it was repetitive in the way that they choose the caskets and singled them out and not cleverly contrived as some critics suggest.