In Shakespeare’s play The Merchant of Venice, the nature of man is shown on the
inscriptions of the caskets. The gold casket represents what men desire, the silver casket
represents what men deserve, and the lead casket represents a man’s duty in marriage.
The gold casket represents the desires of many men. Its inscription reads, “Who chooseth
me shall gain what many men desire.” Any man, who only desires Portia, will not get his desire.
The Prince of Morocco says that many women find him handsome. He desires Portia because
she is beautiful, just like he believes he is. He learned that his vanity and greed will not gain him
her hand in marriage. His vanity is shown when he decides to go straight to the caskets, before
getting to know Portia better. Greed is shown when he chooses the gold casket because it is “ten
times” more valued than the silver or the gold.
The silver casket represents what many men deserve. Its inscription reads, “Who
chooseth me shall get as much as he deserves.” A man is not deserving of Portia until he has
gotten to know her first. The Prince of Aragon learned that stupidity and always wanting to take
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the safe road will earn him nothing in life. Like Morocco, he is stupid for not getting to know
Portia before he chooses the casket. He takes the safe road by not choosing the gold casket
because it is too showy, and by not choosing the lead casket because he does not want to give
The lead casket represents a man’s duty in marriage. Its inscription reads, “Who chooseth
me must give and hazard all he hath.” In order to receive a gift as precious as Portia, he must
learn how to give everything to her. Bassiano was the only smart suitor. He realized that the
only way to receive is to give of himself. He asks himself if maybe the caskets are, “Hiding the
grossness with fair ornament?” Therefore, he chooses the lead casket. Silver and gold are
nothing but ornaments to hide the true ugliness inside. Lead, though ugly, is only covering up
the true beauty inside.
The three caskets are perfect representations of what men desire, deserve, and their
responsibilities. They remind the suitors that they cannot always have what they desire, they
cannot always get what they deserve, and sometimes in order to receive you must first give.