A Common-Place Jotting: Merchant of Venice, Act II, Scene 7

Common-Place or “Locus Communis” — a place to remember

Michael Radford directed The Merchant of Venice (2004), with David Harewood as the Prince of Morocco

In this Act II, Scene 7 of The Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare has the Prince of Morocco, one of Portia’s many suitors, guess which of the three boxes (gold, silver, lead) contains her portrait. “The one of them contains my picture, Prince,” Portia tells him. “If you choose that, then I am yours withal.”

On the gold box are inscribed the words: “Who chooseth me shall gain what many men desire.” Placing his worth as high as that of Portia’s, he chooses the gold box and finds within this note written by her father:

All that glisters is not gold—
Often have you heard that told.
Many a man his life hath sold
But my outside to behold.
Gilded tombs do worms enfold.
Had you been as wise as bold,
Young in limbs, in judgment old,
Your answer had not been inscrolled
Fare you well. Your suit is cold—

*glisters is the 17th c. synonym of glitters