The Three Caskets In The Mershant of Venice


The casket plan used in William Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice was devised by
Portia’s father. It was created to insure she would marry a decent man, not a man that is a
gold digger or a fool. Each suitor must choose a casket, and the suitor who chooses the
casket containing a picture of Portia will be able to marry her. There were three caskets: one
was made of gold, the second silver, and the final casket was of lead. Each casket had a riddle
inscribed on its back. These riddles and the materials of the caskets are symbolic, and allows a deep insight into the character of the suitors. Using the caskets, Portia’s father was able to
find her the best of the suitors for her husband.

The first casket is made of gold. Gold is a common archetype, used to show wealth,
power, and often greed. The inscription on the back reads:
“Who chooseth me shall gain what many men desire."
The Prince of Morocco, who chooses this casket, assumes that this casket represents Portia
wealth, which many men would desire. It shows that his reason for courting Portia was her
money. He is greedy at heart, and does not really care about Portia. Portia’s father
anticipated this, and when the prince opened the casket, a portrait of death gazed at him.
Money is the prize that many men seek, which often leads to death, stated in the quotation:
“Many a man his life hath sold but my outside to behold; gilded tombs do worms infold”
This shows how greedy men often sacrifice their lives for wealth, to discover the wealth is not
their ultimate concern. The Prince of Morocco was greedy in choosing the gold coffin, and
this was his flaw that prevented him from marrying Portia.

The second casket was made of silver, and bore the inscription:
“Who chooseth me shall get as much as he deserves."
The Prince of Aragon chooses this casket, assuming that he rightly deserved his prize. He was
foolish to believe he could judge himself as worthy, and his prize was a picture of a fool. The
scroll inside stated:
“There be fools alive iwis, silvered ov’r, and so was this.”
There are always going to be fools with silver hair covering their head, as the silver casket
covered the picture of the fool. The Prince of Aragon was foolish in thinking that he deserved
Portia, and he “with one fools head, I came to woo / but I go away with two.”

The final casket, containing Portia’s portrait, was made of lead. On it was written:
“Who chooseth me must give and hazard all he haths”
Bassanio chooses this casket, and in it finds Portia’s picture. He chooses the lead casket
because of he believes the other caskets have evil qualities, and are able to tear people apart.
He feels the gold is able to trick and sicken the wisest man (such as King Midas), and silver is
able to cause conflicts between common men, yet the lead is meager and pale and no one
fights for it. He believes the meager lead can bring people together, as it does at
funerals(where the family gathers to bury the dead in a lead casket). The inscription on the
lead showed how he would have to sacrifice and risk all he has for Portia. This is the type of
man Portia father hoped she would marry. The scroll inside tells Bassanio that he has the
fathers blessing to marry her.

Portia is a wise woman. If her father didn’t create this scheme, she would have use a
similar plan to avoid suitors she didn’t want to marry. She sung the song to give Bassanio
hints as to the correct casket. She used the caskets to marry a man she wanted to marry. The
caskets where used to portray the theme of the interrelationship of love and fate. She truly
loved him, and the casket plan confirmed her love as destined.

The casket plan was successful in choosing a good husband for Portia. It prevented her
from marrying the greedy Prince of Morocco, and the foolish Prince of Aragon. The plan
worked well, choosing Bassanio, who loved Portia, and who was loved by her. Portia’s father
was successful in choosing the best husband for his daughter.