Plot Summary / The Story-line
Act I Scene 2 of “The Merchant of Venice” introduces us to Portia. At Belmont Portia is feeling worried because of his father’s will. According to the will, the man who chooses the right casket of the three (gold, silver, lead casket) will win Portia’s hand in marriage. The will also instructs that who fails the test must promise not to marry anyone in his life.
Nerissa, the maid servant of Portia makes a list of suitors who have arrived for the test. They are a Neapolitan prince, a Palatine count, a French nobleman, an English baron, a Scottish lord and the nephew of the duke of Saxony.
Portia criticizes their behaviour. According to Portia, the Neapolitan prince is very much fond of his horse. The Palatine count is very serious. The Englishman has little knowledge about Italian or other languages Portia knows. Finally, each of these suitors leaves without an attempt as they fear of failing the test. Portia gets relieved.
Then both Portia and Nerissa recall Bassanio who came to Belmont before as a visitor. According to Portia Bassanio is much worthy than the other suitors. At this time a servant arrives with news that the prince of Morocco will arrive soon to choose casket. Portia is displeased to hear this news.
Commentary on Act I, Scene 2
In this scene of “The Merchant of Venice” Portia complains to her trusted friend as well as her maid Nerissa about her sadness. Like Salarino, Nerissa first offers a materialistic explanation saying that Portia has too much money and possession which makes her worried. Portia says that her father’s will has entrapped her in a legal contract. She has no control over her own love life and it now depends on her fate because of this will.
This scene has three major purposes. Firstly, it outlines the device of the caskets which will provide the dramatic basis of the play. Secondly, it focuses on the character of Portia. And thirdly, there is a minor but significant touch towards the end of the scene where Bassanio is recalled as a perfect suitor.
Portia’s speech indicates that she is witty, self possessed as well as cruel and prejudiced. She also a has materialistic personality. She rejects the Scottish lord for not having enough money. She dismisses her German suitor as a “beast”.
For the first time Portia and Nerissa show some hopefulness about a prospective suitor in Bassanio. But confronted with the prince of Morocco, Portia again demonstrates her bleak outlook about her marriage. Her strong prejudice is fully seen later.